'I treat people the way I want to be treated'
● By Richard Gaw
A 17-year-old man -- let's call him David -- sat before Magisterial District Judge Daniel Maisano several years ago. He was a familiar face to Maisano, and his appearances in the courtroom were beginning to rack up a list of offenses: disorderly conduct, truancy and underage drinking.
"I looked at this young man and said to him, 'You can either be on your way to a good life by the time you're 18, or you can be in handcuffs on your way to Chester County Prison,'" Maisano said.
Five years later, Maisano was at his law offices, when he was told there was someone waiting for him in the lobby. Maisano turned to see who it was, and there was David, standing in front of him with his right hand outstretched. 'Judge, I want to thank you," he told Maisano. "I have a house, I am married, I have two kids, and a good job. And I owe it all to you."
Maisano would be the first to say that David did all the work, but such stories are the lifeblood of his 21 years as a Magisterial District Judge, stories that along with his track record during his 35 years in the practice of the law that may get him elected to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
"What I try to impose on these kids is that they're disrespecting themselves and their parents, because these parents are trying to provide an opportunity for their children," Maisano said. "I tell these kids, 'If you start working today, you'll retire at age 70. You'll spend the next 50 years doing something. Do you want to do something you enjoy, or do you want to do a job that you hate? Go home, look at the mirror, and ask yourself, 'What kind of a life do I want?'
"What your life doesn't have is a re-set button. When you're 25 and you've missed learning as much as you can, and developing critical thinking skills so that you can provide for your family."
Although Maisano said that his position as a Magisterial District Judge has been a rewarding one, it comes with limitations on jurisdiction that would limit him from being able to have an even more dramatic impact on the lives of those whom he comes in contact in the courtroom -- particularly on youthful offenders.
"As a magisterial judge, I've been making life-altering decisions every day," he said. "I make decisions about who pays who what. I make decisions about guilt or innocence, and personal freedom -- who goes home and who goes to jail. It has a profound effect on the people who come before us, and their family.
"On the Court of Common Pleas, I would have greater authority, and it will allow me to make a greater impact and be able to accomplish more. It seems to me to be a logical progression to end my career at the trial court level."
Throughout his career as a magisterial judge, Maisano has earned a reputation for being fair and impartial, but also for imposing high bail and strict sentences to defendants whom he feels pose a threat to society. About 75 percent of the cases he sees are either directly or indirectly related to illegal drugs, which is not surprising, given the increased traffic flow of narcotics like heroin into Chester County in recent years. Although Maisano has been known to be tough on drug dealers, he measures its impact from the standpoint of the entire community; in particular, the addict.
"I'd prefer to see better treatment options [for addicts]," he said. "I have very little tolerance for drug dealers, and they do deserve to be in jail and I will put them there. But we need to put more of our resources into rehabilitation and treatment instead of incarceration. I'm not weak on crime, but I believe that good people sometimes make bad choices.
Maisano said that there are two components to being an effective judge. There is the by-the-book adjudication of cases done expeditiously within the bounds of the Code of Judicial Conduct. There is also the intangible side, which he has demonstrated for the past 21 years in his current position.
"I treat everyone with respect, regardless of what they're charged with or accused of. I've found that even the worst criminals will respond in kind," Maisano said. "It's appreciating human nature. I treat people the way that I want to be treated."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .