Q&A with Giuseppe Rosselli, Candidate for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

[W]e do not acknowledge poverty and lack of opportunity as a significant  contributing cause worthy of diversion. I believe that poverty and lack of  opportunity are the greatest contributing causes to criminal behavior. Our  diversion programs need to be expanded to include individuals who are affected  by these significant underlying contributing causes.

This is the seventeenth post of our election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.

Giuseppe caught my attention when he attended and addressed a trans rights rally recently. I saw him on tv coverage and saw only him. I saw his name on the Slate of 8 so I was quite interested in how this cis het white guy approached a judicial run. Fortunately, he was willing to tell us.

Your Name: Giuseppe Rosselli
Your Pronouns: He/Him/His
The Office You Seek: Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County

How do you describe your identity? 

Cisgender white heterosexual male.

Please tell us about an underappreciated or little-known asset in the local criminal  justice system. 

The Allegheny Public Defender’s Office handles approximately 80% of all  criminal cases that come through the criminal justice system. The team of Public  Defenders work tirelessly, in less-than-ideal circumstances, to ensure that all  people get a fair opportunity when confronted by the justice system. They are  overworked, underpaid and certainly underappreciated.

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life?

I have spent the past 5 days focused on this question and I can honestly say that  I do not remember the first LGBTQ person I met and unfortunately I am unable to  articulate what impact it had on my life. With that said, in my life, there are  people very close to me who are members of the LGBTQ community. I must be  careful in what I write, because some of them have not come out publicly and I  do not want to violate their trust or have them question my love for them. I can  say that, unlike race, a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation is not  always immediately apparent. I was raised to treat everyone with kindness and  love despite any difference we may have. I have maintained lifelong  relationships with members of the LGBTQ community dating as far back as high  school, although I did not know their sexual orientation until much later. I have  always treated people based on the content of their character and aim to see the  humanity in all of us.

Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the  region. 

Prior to my decision to run for office, I believed that I was in tune with the LGBTQ  community based on my personal upbringing and my work representing many  members of the community in my professional career. However, I have learned  that my understanding of the issues specific to the LGBTQ community were  superficial. In response, I dedicated myself to gaining a deeper understanding.

More importantly, I have taken action based on this deeper  understanding. Specifically, I was recently educated on the Transgender cycle of  violence. The cycle of leaving home at a young age, to homelessness, to  survival sex work, an uneducated and/or compassionless justice system, to  physical violence, criminal records, incarceration and inappropriate  accommodations while incarcerated was difficult to comprehend. However, it  motivated me to take action.

Recently, I convinced the Allegheny County District  Attorney’s Office to amend the Criminal Information (the official charging document) for a young transgender client. It now reads Commonwealth of  Pennsylvania vs. the Defendant’s preferred name rather than the dead  name. My client was thankful, and the transgender community offered their  thanks as well. It is difficult for most to understand how something as simple as  using the appropriate name on an official document or the appropriate pronoun in  conversation can contribute to assisting in breaking this cycle of violence.

I am a better person and candidate based on this experience.

I still have work to do but I have demonstrated a willingness to continue to learn  and dedication to take action when necessary and appropriate.

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for  the Court of Common Pleas? 

I believe the top LGBTQ priorities are

  • Equality and inclusion for transgender and gender nonconforming people o Promotion of restorative justice programs and principles
  • Greater LGBTQ visibility within the administration of justice
  • Increased access to appropriate mental health service
  • Addressing disproportionate rates of criminalization
  • Addressing disproportionate rates of homelessness
  • Fair housing

I believe there are 28 candidates vying for 9 seats on the Court of Common Pleas.  That’s pretty overwhelming as a voter. Help readers understand how and why to choose  whom to support in this primary election. 

There are actually 39 candidates that are running for the 9 open seats and based  on my conversations with voters over the past 4 months, I can assure you that  many voters are overwhelmed by the options. I believe voters should do their best to find resources that they trust to rely upon to cut through the sheer number of choices. Each organization that provides a recommendation or endorsement,  has their own process that is utilized to make their recommendations or  endorsements. None of them are perfect and all have some flaw that requires a  deeper dive into each candidate. Voters should focus on the issues that are  most important to them in their everyday lives. I believe that most voters want a  justice system that is rooted in equality, fairness and thoughtfulness. However,  in a field this large, it can be difficult for the average voter to differentiate between any two candidates.

  • Has the candidate dedicated their professional career working toward  these goals or are they merely talking about these issues because they  are trying to win an election?
  • Do they possess significant courtroom experience?
  • Have they received a positive recommendation from the Allegheny County  Bar Association?
  • Do they have a diverse life experience that would translate into a Judge  who understands the struggles that bring people into our system and the  motivation to help?
  • Are they endorsed by organizations and people who share my world view? o Does their work suggest that they care about the humanity of every  person?
  • Have they demonstrated a willingness to continue to learn?

It clearly is a time-consuming process, but in an election this important, it is  necessary.

The Court of Common Pleas is divided into four categories: Civil, Criminal, Family, and  Orphan. Help our readers understand the distinctions. 

• Criminal Division is the Division where I have spent most of my career. It is the  trial court for individuals charged with all criminal offenses from disorderly  conduct to homicide.

• Family Division handles all non-criminal domestic matters. This includes divorce,  PFA proceedings, child custody and support, parental rights and juvenile  petitions (juveniles charged with criminal offenses).

• Civil Division handles matters related to contract disputes, torts, property  damage, property disputes, personal injury and housing disputes.

• Orphans Court handles matters related to adoptions, estates, civil commitments  and guardianship.

• All four of our divisions require judges who are open minded, willing to learn,  impartial, rooted in true equality and fairness. All judges should understand their  own implicit bias and work toward ensuring that it does not stand in the way of a  just result. Each division requires judges who are experienced with an  understanding of the law and the procedure in order to maintain an orderly and  efficient courtroom. Each Division requires judges who possess a temperament  that demonstrates respect for all litigants, their position, their time and their  resources. Each Division requires judges who are committed to compassion,  empathy, equality, fairness, thoughtfulness and a devotion to the humanity in  each of us.

Your website reads “I believe we have failed to address the lack of opportunity and a  lack of a social infrastructure as significant contributing causes of criminal behavior.”  Please explain how a judge can create opportunity and promote social infrastructure in  court proceedings. 

In the short term, how a judge sentences or determines whether to incarcerate  affects the destabilization of opportunity and infrastructure for a defendant, the  defendant’s spouse or partner, the defendant’s children, and the community as a  whole. The penalties associated with incarceration and conviction extend far  beyond the penalty that the system imposes. Incarceration and a conviction  often place limitations on one’s ability to obtain employment, to obtain  professional licenses, to maximize earning potential, to live in certain  communities and to escape poverty. These limitations create a likelihood for re offense and the cycle of recidivism continues with no end in sight. We need to  be more thoughtful in our approach to sentencing with the understanding that a  just justice system should not engage in a process that actively and knowingly  perpetuates this cycle of recidivism. Our focus should be on investing in people rather than institutions. Our focus should be on building people up for success  rather than setting them up for failure.

In the long term, our diversion programs must be expanded. Currently, in  Allegheny County we have at least five diversion courts. They are

  • Mental Health Court which deals with individuals with a mental health  diagnosis;
  • Drug Court which deals with individuals with substance use disorder; o DUI Court which deals with alcoholism;
  • Veterans’ Court which deals with individuals with PTSD from military  service;
  • and PRIDE Court which deals with individuals engaged in prostitution. • All of these programs are steps in the right direction. They have identified an  underlying cause that has contributed to criminal behavior that is worthy of  resources and diversion from incarceration. However, our current system has  failed in three very specific ways.

• First, we do not acknowledge poverty and lack of opportunity as a significant  contributing cause worthy of diversion. I believe that poverty and lack of  opportunity are the greatest contributing causes to criminal behavior. Our  diversion programs need to be expanded to include individuals who are affected  by these significant underlying contributing causes.

• Second, these programs often require that the next step in an individual’s  criminal path is jail before these programs and the resources that are attached  become available. This means that in most cases, an individual who is eligible  for diversion has likely been through the system multiple times. This is  backwards. We should be providing diversion and its resources as early as  possible in an effort to break the cycle of recidivism.

• Finally, as currently constructed, our diversion programs provide diversion from  incarceration. So, if an individual spends two years working intimately with the  courts and completes the program, they still are burdened with a conviction. It is  the conviction, in and of itself, that creates the social penalty and harm that  diversion from incarceration was meant to avoid. Accordingly, we must be more  focused on diversion over conviction to allow individuals to keep their good name  and maximize their potential in an effort to reduce the likelihood of re-offense.

Help our readers understand what it means to eliminate cash bail and reduce probation periods. 

Cash bail

  • Attaching one’s freedom to their financial ability cannot be part of any  system that calls itself just.
  • Bail is set for two very specific reasons.
  • Is the defendant a danger to the community?
  • Is the defendant a flight risk?

My understanding is that over 90% of defendants who are provided a  ROR bond (no cash required, merely a promise to return for all court  proceedings) appear for all future court proceedings. Accordingly, I am far less concerned about the flight risk component, especially when resources  exist, and conditions can be set (i.e., pretrial house arrest) to increase the  likelihood that an individual appears when requested.

I am far more focused on whether an individual is a danger to the  community. They either are or they are not. If they are not, there is no  need to mandate pretrial detention. If they are a danger, there is no  amount of money that could justify pretrial release.

Cash bail punishes poverty and has no place in a just system.

Probation Periods

  • Currently, the State of Pennsylvania imposes the longest, on average,  period of supervision (probation and parole) than any other state in the  Country.
  • Allegheny County imposes the longest, on average, period of supervision  (probation and parole) than any other county in the State.
  • Allegheny County’s imposition of supervision is almost twice the national  average.
  • National average is 22 months
  • Allegheny County is 42 months

This disparity creates a greater likelihood for violation for minor infractions  (i.e., a positive marijuana test, failure to pay court cost) that lead to  additional incarceration and additional, longer periods of supervision. We  are actively and knowingly setting our citizens up for failure and  perpetuating the cycle of recidivism.

Our focus should be (in part) to reduce the length of probation sentences  to be more in line with the national average, eliminate the use of consecutive probation periods, use graduated sanctions that are fair and  swift for minor violations and assess court fees on a graduating scale  based on an individual’s ability to pay.

How does intersectionality inform your work? 

Completely

As young lawyers we were all taught that justice is blind. However, in  practice, it is clear that justice without an understanding of, or consideration given to, intersectionality has created systemic discriminatory results that disparately impact our most vulnerable  communities. Justice must witness and consider race, gender, sexual  orientation, education, ethnicity, language, culture and class to understand  how and why people enter into our justice system. Judges must understand that over the course of our history the justice system has  continually contributed to the perpetuation of the cycle of recidivism. Failure to acknowledge these factors will only continue the  status quo.

Why does it matter that we have representation in race, gender, ethnicity, and other  identities as judges?

It matters because an appearance in court often comes with stress, trauma, and  uncertainty. Decisions are made that will have a lifetime consequence attached. Having a diverse courtroom can alleviate some of that stress and  trauma. It builds community confidence in the judiciary that all people will be  treated with equality and fairness.

What is the ‘Slate of 8’? 

• The Slate of 8 consists of eight candidates who have been endorsed by a  coalition of grassroots progressive organizations dedicated to criminal justice  reform.

• The coalition consists of 1Hood Power, the Alliance of Police Accountability and  Unite!.

• The endorsed candidates have demonstrated a dedication to equality, a desire to  end mass incarceration and to eliminate the use of case bail.

• I am proud to have been endorsed and to be a part of this group of like-minded jurists. There is a purity to this endorsement because it was based on merit and  a commitment to the principles that are most important to me. It did not require a  cost-prohibitive filing fee, was not based on political glad-handing, and it required  an extensive application and interview process.

Why did you agree to complete this Q&A? 

I agreed to complete this Q & A because every opportunity that I have to discuss  our shared concerns about equality and fairness in our justice system is one step  closer to making the changes that we all deserve.

Tell me about your endorsements and supporters. 

I have been endorsed by the following:

o Recommended by the Allegheny County Bar Association

o Emily Marburger, Mayor of Bellevue

o Bethany Hallam, Allegheny County Councilwoman

o NoBo Progressives PAC

o Unite! PAC

o The Alliance of Police Accountability

o 1Hood Power

o Chardae Jones, Mayor of Braddock

o Allegheny County Constable Association

o Jerry Dickinson, Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law o The Gertrude Stein Political Club

o SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania

o Kevin Carter, member of the Pittsburgh Public School Board

o David Harris, Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law o Jess Benham, Pennsylvania State Representative

It should be noted that prior to this election, I had no political aspirations. This is  the first time that I have run for office. I entered this sophisticated, but antiquated  local political scene without a campaign war chest or political legacy. We have  built this campaign on a message of equality, heart and effort. I am proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time without owing anything to  anyone other than my commitment to honor the endorsement and deliver on our  shared ideals.

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

If you are reading this and believe in a justice system that is rooted in equality,  fairness, compassion, empathy and a commitment to humanity, please consider  casting your vote for me on May 18.

Where can readers find youttpr campaign on social media? How can they donate to your campaign? 

• Website-www.Rosselli4Judge.com 

Facebook.com/Rosselli4Judge

Thank you, Giuseppe.


Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.

  1. Q&A With Bill Peduto, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh
  2. Q&A With Ed Gainey, Candidate for Mayor City of Pittsburgh
  3. Q&A With Raymond Robinson, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-02-42
  4. Q&A with Bethani Cameron, Candidate for City Council District 4
  5. Q&A with Hilary Wheatley Taylor, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge for District 05-2-19
  6. Q&A with Connor Mulvaney, Candidate for City Council District 4
  7. Q&A with Judge Derwin Rushing, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 5-2-40
  8. Q&A with Alyssa Cowan, Candidate for Court of Common Pleas Judge
  9. Q&A with Anita Prizio, Allegheny County Councilor District 3
  10. Q&A With Tiffany Sizemore, Candidate for Judge, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge
  11. Q&A with Robert Disney, Candidate for Bellevue Borough Council
  12. Q&A with Cheryl Patalano, Candidate for Northgate School Board of Directors
  13. Q&A with Laura Pollanen, Candidate for Bellevue Borough Council
  14. Q&A with Lisa Middleman, Candidate for Court of Common Pleas
  15. Q&A with Sabrina Korbel, Judge, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas
  16. Q&A with Val Pennington, Mayor of Bellevue Borough
  17. Q&A with Giuseppe Rosselli, Candidate for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

 

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