Judge Marc Lovecchio’s decision to retire after 12 years on the bench was a surprise to many, but the veteran attorney said it came after a growing frustration with the limitations within the criminal justice system.
He will officially leave the bench at the end of 2021.
Lovecchio has spent years watching the same individuals cycle through his courtroom with little change. He has been an advocate against the drug epidemic as well as working to get people out of a cycle of crime, but, he said, the local resources are ill-equipped to battle the problem.
“My limitation in terms of what I could do as a judge and my inability to effectuate as much change as I had hoped,” Lovecchio said. “We do the best we can, given the limited resources.”
Shortly after being re-elected to his second term on the bench, Lovecchio said he could feel the daily grind of his job wearing him.
“And it wasn’t like this big frustration, like I hate this job or I don’t want to come back to this job … but it was just kind of something that was below the surface,” he said.
Lovecchio recalls having many misconceptions when he was a young practitioner in the law field. He expected that all probation officers were simply hoping to find people doing something wrong, that police officers just wanted to arrest people and even that judges would bring their own biases to the bench.
But when he became a judge, he realized that many of these perceptions were wrong.
“I see everybody in the system, kind of fighting the same battle, kind of having the same frustrations that I do. And, you know, really doing the best that they can,” he said.
Now, he added, the system needs more probation officers and more community police officers to truly address the needs in the county. A lack of education about mental health needs, which are a key issue within the criminal justice system, also make it hard to see lasting change, he said.
A human approach
Lovecchio graduated from Princeton University in 1980 and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law in 1984, graduating Cum Laude. He was Editor of the Law Review and practiced law in Pittsburgh, concentrating in civil defense and employment and labor law. After moving to Williamsport, he practiced as a partner at Campana, Lovecchio & Morrone for many years in federal, state and administrative courts.
Anyone who has come before Lovecchio, either as a defendant, attorney or other court official will know that he runs a casual courtroom. It was not uncommon for Lovecchio to come down from his bench and sit with a defendant during the court proceedings.
“(I’m) human in my approach to try and reach the people who came in front of me, to try and keep them from coming back, to try and help them with their struggles,” Lovecchio said. “I think I did that to an extent. But you’re limited. And that’s what got me frustrated.”
In 2019, Lovecchio was re-elected to his position with the county, however, he said at the time he was not considering retiring. The relatively quick decision shocked many in the court system and could leave a vacant judgeship in the county until the next election cycle in 2023.
Lovecchio said he was offered a position with McCormick Law Firm and saw the opportunity to offer mediation services and training within the county. A gap he sees growing within the county and one he wouldn’t have been able to do as a judge.
Delays within the criminal justice system, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, meant that case hearings often were being delayed and were unable to come to a resolution in a timely manner.
As a mediator within the private firm, Lovecchio believes he can work to alleviate this backlog.
“I can do a fair amount of training and provide quicker justice for people,” he said. “I can help them resolve their cases. And I come at it uniquely qualified, because I’m the judge.”
The public can also expect to hear Lovecchio advocate for specific issues in the future through public speaking. This is something he is rarely able to do as a judge who must remain muted to certain political issues so as to seem unbiased on the bench.
But his decision to retire isn’t just about frustrations with the limits of the criminal justice system – it’s also about spending time with his family.
“I don’t feel like I’m giving up … I owe it to myself. I owe it to my family. I owe it to the people that come in front of me,” Lovecchio said. “I don’t want to be frustrated. I don’t want to be dismayed. …I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job, and gave it my all. And now it’s someone else’s turn.”