“Good people make bad decisions. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. Therefore, even defendants deserve the courts’ respect.”
In 1994, Daniel J. Maisano became Chester County Magisterial District Judge for the Kennett Square area and served in that role until 2016. In The Story of Kennett: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time, Bob George and Joan Holliday, co- authors, interviewed Honorable Daniel J. Maisano. Following is an excerpt from the book reflecting his philosophy and practice as a judge with the Kennett area youth:
“As far as my interactions with the Kennett youth, I primarily heard court cases that dealt with truancy, followed by non-traffic offenses, involving disorderly conduct, trespassing, and under-age drinking. (Other than possession of a small amount of marijuana, drug cases were dealt with at juvenile court in West Chester.) The number of court hearings for juveniles was much less in my earlier years as judge, because the schools took on the responsibility of addressing many of the issues, such as fighting on school property and intoxication on school property, in house, without police intervention. This took a turn with the advent of the Zero Tolerance policies of the late 90’s and early 2000’s; we saw a dramatic increase in citations issued to our youth and resulting appearances in court. The Kennett High School administration and the Kennett Square police chief made a wise decision when they placed a Kennett police officer on the school premises the past couple of years. This proactive form of community policing has dramatically decreased the number of incidents at the schools and reduced the number of citations issued to our youth on school property.
As I heard court cases, I told the parents accompanying their child, “Good kids make bad choices. It doesn’t make them bad kids.” The question being, “Am I learning from this mistake?” I also gave a strong message to the youth standing before me. I was in a unique position to help a youth look at the long-term consequences of his/her decisions today. I recall one case, when I challenged a youth, who was continually being brought to court for “dumb stuff.” I gave a harsh talk, asking him to think about his vision for his future 5 and 10 years down the line. Did he want to be sitting in front of me in handcuffs on his way to Chester County Prison or did he want to have a wife, children, and a nice home where they enjoyed family gatherings and could go out and attend their children’s soccer games? I told him to go home and look at himself in the mirror and ask himself what type of future he wanted for himself and then start making the right choices to achieve that future.
The choices we make today will have an impact now and many years into the future. Years later, this youth came to visit me at the district court and told me that he wanted to thank me. He said he was now married, had a couple of children and owned a home, and yes, he was going to his children’s soccer games.
My main frustration with the system was always my inability to do more for those students who came before me with chronic truancy violations. Our options, as magisterial district judges, to deal with truancy are very limited. Truancy is more often than not a symptom of a larger problem or problems. It could be bullying at school, abuse, physical or sexual, a home or a mental illness issue such as depression or anxiety attacks.
Failure to address these issues results in an uneducated, unengaged student whose career and income producing opportunities in life are severely limited. This may result in a young woman becoming financially dependent on her spouse and unable to leave a physically abusive relationship, especially where children are concerned. For the male, the opportunity to obtain financial security through the sale of drugs or other criminal enterprises becomes extremely appealing.
In the end, we all pay more to incarcerate those criminals who have resorted to crime because they were unable to obtain gainful employment because of their lack of education. More resources need to be allocated to address the truancy issue so that our youth can graduate and compete in the job market with the best opportunity for success. That way, we all benefit.
As a judge over 22 years, I have tried to make a positive impact on my community. I have tried to impart the wisdom of my age to the youth that have appeared before me with the hope they can lead better, more productive lives without having to make many of the mistakes we, their elders, had to make. I have always tried to be fair and impartial. I treated everyone who came before me; witness, prosecutor, defense attorney, law enforcement and even the defendant with respect.
Not everyone who commits a crime is an evil bad person. Like our youth, even adults sometimes make bad choices; it doesn’t make them a bad person. There is the law and there is justice. For my legacy, I hope to be remembered as a jurist who knew the law and who applied the law, but who did so in a fair and just manner.”
Books may be purchased on Amazon and at the Mushroom Cap or Resale Book Shoppe in Kennett.