South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Judge Ricciardi explains why he prefers community service sentences over fines

 


Magisterial District Judge Gene Ricciardi made an appearance at the Mount Oliver City/St. Clair Village Border Block Watch meeting May 24 at the Potter's House Cathedral Multi-Education Center (formerly St. Joseph's convent).

Judge Ricciardi announced at the meeting that he is in the process of working out details with the Potter's House administrators about providing a pool of workers to do community service for the church and the programs associated with the institution.

This was one of the first public appearances at a community meeting since the primary election was held May 15. For the three months prior to that, Mr. Ricciardi did not attend any public meetings because he took an oath to avoid political issues while in office.

“[As a judge] I could not attend any of the community meetings in case any political candidates appeared there,” said Mr. Ricciardi, noting he is not permitted to speak for or against the candidacy of anyone running for public office.

Since Mr. Ricciardi began his tenure as a district judge on the South Side, he has frequently handed out “punishment” in the form of community service. He said doing this is preferable to merely handing out fines because it has a longer-lasting impact on the perpetrators.

For example, the day prior to the block watch meeting, Mr. Ricciardi handed out a decision requiring three college students (living on the South Side) to perform community service after a woman, who filed a private criminal complaint, won her case against the young men.

The woman had been tormented for months by the students because of their constant partying and inappropriate late-night behavior in the neighborhood.

The woman testified the students and their guests repeatedly talked loudly well beyond midnight on their cell phones and would often urinate along the walkway between their homes.

The judge said that the convicted students' bad conduct did not merit “jail time”. However, Mr. Ricciardi offered the defendants a choice between paying a fine (and court costs amounting to $426.50 each) or doing community service in the South Side. All three decided to perform community service.

The three young men agreed to create a Website and chat room to inform college students living on the South Side about the types of behavior that are acceptable for them to maintain good relationships with their neighbors and outline the consequences of bad behavior that results in citations or arrests.

They were also required to do community service as of Memorial Day weekend by cleaning up the neighborhood and preparing a report about the Vietnam War while also cleaning up the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. Mr. Ricciardi said he once had a student write a paper comparing and contrasting the lives of 1960s Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. He said he also had another student research the life of jazz musician George Benson, a Hill District native. He said he was shocked to learn that the young man had never heard of George Benson. Mr. Ricciardi said the student did a very good job with his research paper and he hoped he was able to open the student's mind to other types of music other than Rap.

Mr. Ricciardi said he has done this in many other cases, too. He started making students cited for bad behavior (public urination and vomiting, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, loud noise, etc.) take part in community service in Oakland and it has since moved to the South Side. In addition to these aforementioned community projects, the young South Side men also have to take part in pickup litter campaigns.

Mr. Ricciardi has quickly developed a reputation as a no-nonsense judge and he believes his method of making young adults understand the consequences of their inappropriate behavior has had a positive effect on most who have been through his court.

“I have gotten several notes of thanks from some of them,” the judge said.

The judge was asked for his opinion on the 21-year-old man who was convicted of doing $577,000 worth of damage through graffiti, some of it taking place on the South Side although most was found in Bloomfield, Shady Side and Lawrenceville.

The young man was given bail for only $10,000. Mr. Ricciardi said had he heard the case against the graffiti vandal known for the “MFONE” tag, the cost of the bail would have equaled the amount of the estimated damage that he did.

“With the amount of damage he has done and the gravity of the situation, I believe that man deserves jail time,” Mr. Ricciardi said.

Mr. Ricciardi also said that parents are often the last people to realize when their sons or daughters are acting improperly. He cited the example of a mother whose son was caught with a marking pen.

“She claims that the pen was only used for his art classes, but I told her she was being naïve if she thought he didn't use it for graffiti,” said Mr. Ricciardi who noted he was able to get the young man to admit to using the pen for graffiti vandalism.

There was a discussion about trying to find ways to provide a creative outlet for the graffiti vandals. Mr. Ricciardi said he would be willing to sit down and discuss this situation with the offenders, enforcement officers and community/church leaders on how to accomplish that.

The judge admitted that some of the graffiti does show an artistic talent in some of the vandals, but painting buildings, bridges, buses, mail boxes, etc. is not the way to show it.

The next quarterly block watch meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Potter's House Cathedral.

 

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