Reaching Out
Doylestown law firm Mellon Webster & Shelly P.C. expands its influence both locally and nationally
by Bill Donahue


Reporters for the New York Times and Newsweek, authors of bestselling books and even some Hollywood producers have taken a keen interest in the casework of attorneys at Mellon Webster & Shelly P.C.—and for very good reason. Not only does this versatile Doylestown-based law firm have an outstanding record representing its various clients, but many of its attorneys have exerted a profound influence on U.S. legal matters, both locally and nationally.


Founded in 1981 by Thomas E. Mellon Jr., Mellon Webster & Shelly represents plaintiffs in civil litigation, class actions and commercial litigation, as well as defendants in criminal prosecutions. Before starting his own firm, Mellon spent seven years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Department of Justice in Philadelphia, where he rose to the positions of Chief of the Narcotics Unit and Chief of the Criminal Division. He has since become one of the region’s most prominent and influential attorneys, representing individuals involved in personal injury actions and complex commercial litigation.


Among the firm’s shareholders, Mellon keeps very good company in the form of Sara Webster and Carol Shelly. Webster concentrates her practice in criminal defense and the forensic aspects of mental illness, and also handles cases involving victims of assault and accidents, while Shelly focuses her practice in personal injury and medical malpractice. Both women have been with the firm for more than 20 years.


“Sara is an extraordinary criminal defense lawyer,” says Mellon. “Super Lawyers has named Sara in the top 50 lawyers in the state of Pennsylvania, and there are 100,000 lawyers in the state. Meanwhile, Carol is taking over the civil world as it pertains to medical malpractice litigation and personal injury litigation of all sorts. So I’m particularly proud of the fact that this law firm has two of the most prominent women lawyers in this county and in this state.”


When a Mellon Webster & Shelly attorney agrees to represent a client in a civil or criminal matter, the attorney aims to get a full understanding not only of the client’s legal situation but also of the client himself.


“In DUI cases, which are about a third of my practice, you have to be able to understand what a client’s lifestyle is in order to get the maximum benefit for every client,” Webster says. “You have to look at the client’s needs and perhaps deficits and get him into counseling or treatment to deal with the other issues that might have put him in that predicament to begin with. … So it’s dealing not with just the specific crime for which they’re charged but their whole life situation.”


In matters of medical malpractice, the firm’s resources include Dr. Jonathan A. Briskin, a physician-attorney associated with Mellon Webster & Shelly for 30 years, who helps provide a full understanding of any possible medical malpractice case. Shelly is quick to note that the firm approaches every potential malpractice case thoroughly to ensure that it is meritorious. For cases involving motor-vehicle accidents, she believes her malpractice background helps her better serve her injured clients.


“You have to be able to understand from a medical perspective the trauma that has occurred, so in some ways understanding the medicine is equally as important as understanding the law,” she says. “Regardless of the kind of civil case, the best way to maximize the settlement value is to prepare for trial. Only when you can convince the insurance company or defendant that you are going to try the case are they really going to pay attention and look at the case for the meritorious claim that it is.”


A Widening Reach

Although the bulk of the firm’s practice revolves around helping individuals who are dealing with day-to-day issues such as personal injury or adoption, it has also exerted its influence in cases that address systemic problems in American society, from global terrorism to tobacco addiction to pollution, thereby giving the firm a truly national reach.  


“[Fellow attorneys] Steve Corr, Jack Corr and I just won a $2-billion case against an automotive corporation in Ohio, and also settled a multimillion-dollar case against several pharmaceutical companies with clients in virtually every state in the union,” says Mellon. “We are representing 23 states against several major oil companies for what the oil companies owe the states for environmental pollution, and also have many cases against the tobacco companies out of the state of Florida.”


Mellon, in fact, was one of the original members of a nationwide consortium of law firms to take on the tobacco companies in the 1990s. He has continued to break new ground by acting as the lead attorney on a suit filed against the sovereign state of Iran on behalf of the victims of 9/11, including 13 widows and parents based in Bucks County.


Meanwhile, another Mellon Webster & Shelly attorney, Samuel C. Totaro, has become a nationally known adoption expert who has handled groundbreaking cases associated with the likes of wrongful adoptions, same-sex adoptions and in vitro fertilization, among others. One of his cases, about a landmark adoption, was made into a 1998 Lifetime film called “A Father for Brittany.”


“These days the American family has changed,” says Mellon, “and Sam has been involved in more cutting-edge, making-new-law cases than anybody, both on the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania as well as those that occur in other states. We are truly throughout the country.”


Yet another thing that makes the firm unique is its attorneys’ involvement in the region’s civic, cultural and political processes. Three of the firm’s attorneys—Mellon, Shelly and Thomas Donnelly, whose practice focuses on commercial litigation and transactions—have at one time served as president of the Bucks County Bar Association. (Shelly is only the second woman to serve in that role in the association’s 150-year history.) Webster, a past president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has chaired the Criminal Law Section of the Bucks County Bar Association since 1999. Lastly, Stephen A. Corr, whose practice focuses on personal injury and commercial litigation, is in his second term on the board of the Central Bucks School District, having served as its president for two years.


“Instead of counting hours and counting minutes and counting dollars,” says Mellon, “we count upon the involvement and commitment of all the lawyers on staff here in the civic, social and cultural fabric of this area, which I’m pleased and honored to say has been very successful.”


That’s putting it lightly. The firm has earned an “AV Preeminent” rating from Martindale-Hubbard, which is the highest possible rating for legal ability and ethical standards. Also, since the firm’s founding, it has handled in excess of 60 cases that have settled or had a verdict of more than $1 million. In 1999, for example, Shelly secured a $4-million verdict for her client, which was one of the 50 largest verdicts in Pennsylvania that year. Now the firm is involved in multibillion-dollar cases.


“We started off very humbly with a credit card and a prayer,” says Mellon, whose cases have since been the subjects of at least five mass-market books. “We managed to get a case or two, which became 200, which then became 2,000. Now I think we’re up to 10,000 cases in the course of our career.


“We’ve enjoyed unbelievable success, but I think that’s because the people here have a sense of family and comradeship and commitment,” he continues. “I honestly don’t know of any other law firm that is constructed or designed in the way that we are. So far it’s worked rather well.”


Mellon Webster & Shelly P.C.

87 North Broad Street
Doylestown, PA 18901



Rob Hall is a photographer based in Plumsteadville.