South Side District Magisterial Judge Gene Ricciardi addressed the most recent meeting of the South Side Chamber of Commerce on September 21 at the Morning Glory Inn on Sarah Street.
Since becoming a district judge this year, Mr. Ricciardi has taken a tough stance against those who create problems in the South Side business district. He has developed a reputation for handing out punishment that not only consists of fines, but also community service.
He noted that one of the young people who was punished in his court, got the word out through an email ‘blast' warning everybody they knew that the South Side is not the place to cause trouble.
Mr. Ricciardi said about 40 young people that have gone through his court are scheduled to do community service in Oakland where they will sweep littered streets. This is scheduled to take place some time during the second week of October.
“It's much better to get them out there pushing brooms because it leaves a more lasting impression on them than just paying a fine,” Mr. Ricciardi said.
He noted that many people who pay a fine for graffiti, public drunkenness, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, public urination and vandalism, act like the money is not that big a deal.
“A lot of them have the money to pay the fine so it doesn't always sink in with them. Community service gives them more a sense of ownership and sense of responsibility,” said Mr. Ricciardi, noting that having to pick up trash in public can be an embarrassment for those ordered to do it, thus having a more punishing impact.
Mr. Ricciardi noted that the city police used to be “hesitant” to arrest people causing trouble on the streets outside of bars and other businesses because of the extra time it took to go through the whole process of bringing in the offenders. This would take the police away from patrolling the business district at night.
But since a new state court ruling this year, the police now have the power to cite trouble-makers on the spot without having to leave their patrolled area. The offenders must now appear in court.
When he campaigned for the job as district judge, Mr. Ricciardi pledged to do his best to protect the “overall integrity” of the neighborhood. Thus far, he believes he has taken a “no-nonsense” approach and has not been lenient on the trouble-makers.
He said another effective use of his court has been requiring any cited students to bring their parents with them to appear before his court.
“I've had parents [of Pitt and Duquesne students] come from as far away as Ohio, Florida and Philadelphia with their son or daughter into my chambers and these parents are very embarrassed to be there,” Mr. Ricciardi said.
The district judge gave as an example a mother from a local upper-class neighborhood who was very upset that her son had to appear in his court.
“She was so mortified to be there with him that she said she felt like hitting him,” Mr. Ricciardi said. “I told her that if she felt that way about it, I would waive the fine if she gave him a whack right there in my court. So she hit him on the back of his head. She gave him a pretty good whack. He learned more from his mother about the consequences of his wrongful actions than he would have learned by just paying a fine.”
Mr. Ricciardi said he was true to his word as he waived the $400 fine for the suburban mother of a Pitt student while she enforced her own form of tough love on her son. An appearance before Mr. Ricciardi that results in a guilty verdict can result in as much as a $1,400 expense in fines and court costs.
He said that he has had similar results with other young people and their parents who have supported his tough stance against the offenders.
Mr. Ricciardi was brought up by strict parents who came from Italy. With a strict upbringing as his foundation, he believes the way he conducts his court is the best way to send the message that nuisance crimes in public will not be tolerated in any business district of South Side and Oakland where he has jurisdiction.
The judge said he is interested in working with the South Side Chamber in getting offenders of nuisance crimes to perform community service on Carson Street and adjoining streets in conjunction with the city's ‘Redd-Up' campaign.
“This can be a win, win situation for everybody,” said Bruce Kraus, the chamber president. “It works best when we can all work toward a common goal of making South Side a safe, clean environment for living there and for doing business.”