Northeast Times

Yo Jimmy!

Northeast native Jimmy Binns is a veteran litigator, former state boxing commissioner, recent suburban police academy graduate and an actor who has appeared in two ‘Rocky’ films.

  • Jimmy Binns poses in front of the famed Rocky statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Philly’s finest: Jimmy Binns stands outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In December, he completed an 11-month certification course at the Delaware County police academy. He passed all the academic and physical tests, graduating first in his class with a 98.4 grade point average and won the Police Chiefs Award for his all-around performance and leadership. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Nobody can ac­cuse Jimmy Binns of fail­ing to an­swer the bell.

Or, to bor­row a line from his fa­vor­ite fic­ti­tious Phil­adelphia fight­er, Binns has nev­er been mis­taken for “just an­oth­er bum from the neigh­bor­hood.”

The vet­er­an lit­ig­at­or, former state box­ing com­mis­sion­er, some­time act­or and re­cent sub­urb­an po­lice academy gradu­ate rarely has missed an op­por­tun­ity to in­tensi­fy his com­munity en­gage­ment or amp­li­fy his celebrity since his days as a Pop Warner foot­ball star for the May­fair Rams in the early 1950s.

Per­haps best known nowadays for his fre­quent pub­lic ap­pear­ances ad­voc­at­ing for the fam­il­ies of slain po­lice of­ficers and fire­fight­ers, Binns, 74, boasts an ec­lect­ic cur­riculum vitae that in­cludes cameo ap­pear­ances in two Rocky se­quels. Neither role was a stretch. Film­makers asked Binns to por­tray him­self both times.

“I met Sylvester Stal­lone when I was a box­ing com­mis­sion­er,” Binns said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “I first met him at Book­bind­er’s, and I used to see him out in Las Ve­gas at fights. He was mak­ing a new movie and asked me to act in it.”

Binns played an at­tor­ney in Rocky V in 1990 and a box­ing com­mis­sion­er in Rocky Bal­boa 16 years later.

“I had nice speak­ing parts in each,” he said.

Much like Stal­lone’s title char­ac­ter, Binns is walk­ing proof of the heights to be achieved for an in­di­vidu­al with cha­risma, know­ledge and am­bi­tion, re­gard­less of the neigh­bor­hood from which he comes.

“I’VE NEV­ER SEEN A FIGHT­ER THAT CON­CERNED ABOUT HIS HAIR.”

That was how TV an­noun­cer Stu Na­han de­scribed the ex­ceed­ingly self-ab­sorbed Apollo Creed as the champ stepped in­to the ring for his first bout with Rocky Bal­boa. At first glance, a sim­il­ar as­sess­ment seems apro­pos for Binns.

Re­gard­less of the crowd, it’s im­possible to miss his tall, svelte fig­ure and me­tic­u­lously craf­ted gen­tle­man’s at­tire. His garb may in­clude a pin­striped busi­ness suit or pleated slacks with off­set­ting blazer and tie. His shirts fea­ture starched col­lars and French cuffs, of­ten pas­tel in col­or and al­ways freshly pressed. No en­semble is com­plete without wing­tips or spats and per­haps a tan fe­dora.

Binns combs his white hair straight back and he is al­ways cleanly shaved. A square jaw is his most pro­nounced fea­ture and he knows it. So did world-renowned artist and il­lus­trat­or Leroy Nei­man when he sketched Binns’ pro­file years ago.

The at­tor­ney en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally dis­trib­utes mini­ature glossy re­prints of the por­trait on the front of his over­sized busi­ness card. If you meet him once, you’ll be giv­en a card. If you meet him a second time, you’ll likely get an­oth­er. It prob­ably won’t fit in your wal­let, though. It’s too big.

Non­ethe­less, Binns’ self-evid­ent nar­ciss­ism is neither without mer­it, nor lack­ing pur­pose. It’s like his pass­port, grant­ing him free travel among the of­ten con­tra­dict­ory worlds of the crim­in­al, the po­lice of­ficer, the box­er, the busi­ness­man, the May­fair kid and the Main Line so­cial­ite.

“STAY IN SCHOOL. USE YOUR BRAIN… BE A THINKER, NOT A STINKER.”

Binns didn’t need Apollo Creed’s ad­vice about the pit­falls of punches to the face or the ad­vant­ages of edu­ca­tion. He learned it firsthand.

Born Sept. 27, 1939, Binns spent the first 14 years of his life in May­fair. His fam­ily lived at 3154 Un­ruh St., and he at­ten­ded grade school at St. Timothy’s. He was a good stu­dent and ath­lete. His May­fair Rams played home games at Wissi­nom­ing Park. In 1952, he made the all-city Pop Warner team.

“I played end, both ways of course,” Binns said.

In his early teens, the fam­ily moved to Mount Airy. He at­ten­ded the old La Salle Col­lege High School at 20th and Ol­ney and gradu­ated in 1957. Four years later, he gradu­ated from La Salle Col­lege magna cum laude with a bach­el­or’s de­gree in ac­count­ing. What would be­come his lifelong pas­sion for box­ing emerged in those un­der­gradu­ate years.

“When I was in col­lege, I de­cided I wanted to be­come a box­er. I met a class­mate whose uncle man­aged fight­ers down in South Phil­adelphia at the Passy­unk Gym,” Binns said.

The now-de­funct train­ing fa­cil­ity at Moore Street and Passy­unk Av­en­ue was home to a host of cham­pi­on fight­ers back then, in­clud­ing Sonny Lis­ton and Joey Giar­dello. Binns, a straight-A col­lege stu­dent, showed up one day.

“I trained there and fought as an am­a­teur for two years. I fought a lot of pro­fes­sion­als in the gym there,” Binns said. “But after two years, I de­cided it was time to move on.”

Binns landed a cushy job with an ac­count­ing firm, but it didn’t last. Too bor­ing.

“I de­cided I was too young to enter the work­force,” he said.

So he went back to col­lege, rid­ing an aca­dem­ic schol­ar­ship through Vil­lan­ova Law School. Ini­tially, he stud­ied a lot of tax law, but the fight­er in him won out and he began spe­cial­iz­ing in lit­ig­a­tion. He was ad­mit­ted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1965 and with­in two years had opened his own firm.

“The first time I went to court was when I was sworn in and the second time I was pick­ing a jury for a civil tri­al,” Binns said.

He still prac­tices in­de­pend­ently with of­fices at 18th and Mar­ket streets and is li­censed in 20 states. He has been ad­mit­ted to fed­er­al dis­trict and ap­peals courts, and is a mem­ber of the bar of the U.S. Su­preme Court.

“FROM HERE ON IN, JUST LET ME DO THE FIG­UR­IN’.”

Rocky wasn’t just a fight­er. Some­times, his loan-shark boss, Tony Gazzo, in­struc­ted him to break a few legs too. For Binns, de­fend­ing sim­il­arly du­bi­ous char­ac­ters against crim­in­al charges is a part of his job de­scrip­tion, but he made his bones else­where. The World Box­ing As­so­ci­ation, the old­est among box­ing’s four ma­jor gov­ern­ing bod­ies, has re­tained his ser­vices in 34 cases in­volving many of the biggest names in the sport’s his­tory.

In the late 1970s, Binns met ban­tam­weight champ “Jolt­in” Jeff Chand­ler at the Ju­ni­per Gym in South Philly. Someone sued Chand­ler, so the WBA hired Binns to de­fend him. The gov­ern­ing body hired Binns again for a case in­volving light­weight champ Claude Noel.

Binns also has rep­res­en­ted pro­moters in lit­ig­a­tion and con­tract ne­go­ti­ations. He de­fen­ded Don King against a claim filed by Mike Tyson’s at­tor­neys and ne­go­ti­ated title bouts for Frank Bruno and Barry McGuigan.

Binns’ con­nec­tions in the leg­al, box­ing and polit­ic­al com­munit­ies paved the way for his ap­point­ment to the Pennsylvania State Ath­let­ic Com­mis­sion in the 1980s.

“It’s all a mat­ter of net­work­ing,” Binns said. “One thing leads to an­oth­er. One door closes and two more open.”

“TO YOU IT’S THANKS­GIV­ING. TO ME, IT’S THURSDAY.”

Rocky’s take on hol­i­days was less than en­thu­si­ast­ic, but he’s not the only one for whom Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas and East­er are double-edged swords.

Joy is al­ways tempered with grief for the fam­il­ies of po­lice and fire­fight­ers who’ve lost their lives pro­tect­ing the city. For more than a dec­ade, Binns has ded­ic­ated much of his time to help­ing those fam­il­ies cope with loss and pre­serve the legacies of their loved ones.

Each East­er, Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas, he joins lead­ers of the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice and dozens of cops in de­liv­er­ing hol­i­day meals to slain of­ficers’ fam­il­ies. He is also founder of the Hero Plaque Pro­gram.

“That de­veloped be­cause I owned a res­taur­ant in the year 2000 at 13th and Lo­cust,” he said. “I got it through a law­suit. I hated it but I had to go to it.”

A loc­al po­lice ser­geant of­ten stopped there while mak­ing his rounds.

“One morn­ing, he poin­ted out the win­dow and said, ‘The night Danny Faulkner got killed, he was lay­ing right there,’ ” Binns said.

The at­tor­ney came up with an idea to hon­or the slain of­ficer by in­stalling a plaque on the very spot. He called Faulkner’s wid­ow to ask her ap­prov­al. Maur­een Faulkner con­sen­ted and prom­ised to at­tend the ded­ic­a­tion ce­re­mony in 2001.

“She flew back from Cali­for­nia and about one thou­sand cops showed up,” Binns said.

In 13 years, the pro­gram has been re­spons­ible for in­stalling 261 po­lice and fire­fight­er plaques throughout the city and sur­round­ing counties and the Jer­sey Shore. Binns, who no longer owns the res­taur­ant, has de­veloped deep per­son­al ties with slain po­lice and fire­fight­ers’ fam­il­ies as well as act­ive cops. He fights in­side and out­side the courtroom for their be­ne­fit.

He chairs of the an­nu­al Hero Thrill Show, which raises schol­ar­ship money for the chil­dren of slain po­lice and fire­fight­ers. After a pri­or or­gan­izer can­celled the show in 2005, Binns formed a com­mit­tee to re­new the event in 2006.

He also helps act­ive cops by rais­ing money for new High­way Patrol mo­tor­cycles and Moun­ted Unit vehicles. His in­volve­ment has al­lowed him unique ac­cess to the closely guarded law en­force­ment com­munity.

As a 68-year-old, the High­way unit al­lowed him to par­ti­cip­ate in its mo­tor­cycle train­ing course, the one des­ig­nated for cops, not the pub­lic.

“I went through the course and earned my wings,” he said.

In Decem­ber, he com­pleted an 11-month train­ing and cer­ti­fic­a­tion course at the Delaware County po­lice academy.

“It was something that just oc­curred to me that I should emu­late these of­ficers that we hon­or through these ter­rif­ic pro­grams,” Binns said.

By far the old­est ever par­ti­cipant in the pro­gram, he passed all the aca­dem­ic and phys­ic­al tests, gradu­at­ing first in his class with a 98.4 grade point av­er­age. He won the Po­lice Chiefs Award for his all-around per­form­ance and lead­er­ship. Now he wants a new ca­reer.

“I’m go­ing to achieve a po­s­i­tion with a law en­force­ment agency, something that has to do with mo­tor­cycles,” Binns said.

If it brings him more fame, so be it.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for the people who serve the city of Phil­adelphia and I’m more proud that they count me as a friend.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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