Cal Students Learn Life Lessons in Courtroom
By TAYLOR BROWN
Out of the thousands of cases that Magisterial District Judge Joshua Kanalis deals with on a yearly basis, almost 1,000 of them are relating to California University of Pennsylvania students who end up sitting in front of the judge, hoping for leniency.
Stephen Cuneo, 20, of Indianapolis, was one of three Cal U students who made his way into the courtroom on Nov. 13. Like his colleagues, he claimed to have simply made a “stupid mistake.”
Cuneo, followed by his father, walked into the courtroom wearing khaki pants and a white button up T-shirt in an attempt to make a good first impression. This attempt failed after he raised his right hand in front of the judge and then lied.
“I think I paid $100-$150 for the fake I.D.,” Cuneo said. “I don’t know. I don’t really remember.”
The judge smirked.
“If you want me to be gentle with you,” Kanalis said, “you need to answer me when I ask you a question and make sure you tell me the truth. I already know the answer. Why don’t you try again?”
Looking over his shoulder at his father and then back to the judge, Cuneo paused and then replied in a muffled voice, “I think it was more around $250.”
The Cal U student was given three different citations after attempting to use a fake I.D. to purchase liquor on Sept. 12 in the California Borough Wine and Spirits store at 2:49 p.m.
In a college town, the use of a fake I.D.to get into bars and to purchase liquor is a common practice, but because bar and state store employees are well-trained on how to identify an I.D. that is real, using a fake one is risky.
“I was a cop for 10 years,” Kanalis said. “The balls that it takes to walk into a state store in a college town (and use a fake I.D.), well, I just couldn’t do it.”
After he was asked to show a second form of identification at the register, Cuneo left the store immediately without the alcohol, not knowing that borough police would be notified of the crime and would then use the California University student database to locate and serve him with a citation.
Cuneo was ordered to pay a $477 fine for two of the three citations. He will lose his license for 30 days. Although Cuneo is a fulltime student at Cal U with a 3.0 Grade Point Average, the judge urged him to spend less time drinking and more time studying.
“To this date I have never had a student with a 4.0 in this classroom serving as a defendant,” Kanalis said. “Hit the books, not the bars.”
The second case involved another Cal U student, as well as a former student, who, after a night of drinking were charged with resisted arrest. A female officer broke her hand in the process.
The weekend after Cal U’s Homecoming, Chad Smith, a Cal U alumnus and Brett Frantino a Cal U senior, stopped into Subway and got loud with an employee who didn’t know how to make the sandwich Smith was requesting.
Smith, who just graduated from Cal U in December, asked to extend the hearing until the injured officer could be present.
“I just got a job with a big Fortune 500 company,” Smith said. “I do not want this on my record.”
Informality reigns in judge's domain
The Washington County Magisterial District Court in Brownsville isn’t exactly like the courts that you see on T.V. There is not always an attorney or even a police officer present. Boxes are piled high along the walls and harsh fluorescent lighting bounces off the mismatched tables and chairs that fill the room.
It’s casual. Not only casual in appearance, but in conversation, as well, proving that outside of their authoritative uniforms, police officers, as well as judges, are normal people, with normal complaints. Two officers sit in the front row of the courtroom, scrolling through Facebook on their cell phones and waiting for the judge.
One looks at the other and says, “So I got this dog the other day…”
Intrigued, the other officer looks up from his phone.
With a chuckle and a roll of his eyes, the first one puts his phone on his lap and continues. “Yeah. It’s a shih tzu. I paid almost $400 for it, but all it does is pee all over my new hardwood floor. I don’t understand it. I came home, opened the door and before I could even pet it, it pissed right there in front of me. … So I gave it to my brother and now it pees on his floors instead.”
The officers smile at each other, laughing, as the judge walks into the courtroom holding a can of air freshener. Pacing back and forth through the courtroom, his index finger is glued to the trigger of the deodorizer, which fills the room with a tropical aroma. Taking a whiff of the air and then directly looking at the officers in the audience along with a student reporter, he says, “Ahh, the smell of fear,” and then casually sits in his chair, ready to resume his day.
Court is in session.
Frantino expressed to the judge how badly he feels about the situation and takes full responsibility.
“If I see the female officer again, I would like to apologize,” Frantino said. “I had too much to drink and it was not the right way to behave.”
According to the judge, he believes that students watch reality shows on T.V. and mimic their actions.
“When you see this on T.V., no one suffers any consequences,” Kanalis said. “Frankly, I only see a small percent of the students at Cal. I have to worry about the people who don’t ever make it in front of me.”
In other court business:
Taylor Brown is a junior at California University of Pennsylvania majoring in English with concentrations in journalism and creative writing. See her website at www.taylorshareebrown.weebly.com.