‘Straight Talk’ program offers advice for parents

Published Jan 10, 2014 at 10:35 am (Updated Jan 10, 2014 at 10:35 am)

A large crowd braved the cold weather on Jan. 8 to hear what local judges and law officials had to say about current events facing local and federal courts and the Upper St. Clair Police Department.

Sponsored by the Upper St. Clair Youth Steering Committee and Together in Parenting (TIP), “Straight Talk” featured speakers U.S. District Court Judge Mark Hornak, District Judge Blaise Larotonda of Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair police Lt. James Englert.

Larotonda, magistrate for Mt. Lebanon and Dormont, opened by telling those in attendance that local communities are facing the same problems as other communities across the country.

“It’s no different – no better, no worse – than any other town across America.”

Larotonda went on to say that some parents are “right on track” with raising their children, while other parents are on the other end.

“My wife and I taught ourselves to sweat the small stuff,” Larotonda said. “And we found that if you nip the small stuff in the bud, you are less likely to have to deal with big stuff. We can’t be afraid to get into our kids – even when they’re older and adults.”

Larotonda said that as a district magistrate, he has the opportunity to work with the police department and parents to help turn a kid around. In situations where a child has a dependency issue, be it drugs or alcohol, Larotonda said he’ll work with police and parents and watch the progress to try to get a kid back on track.

Englert said a local magistrate has the ability to work hand in hand with the community. He said the police speak with the magistrate ahead of time, lay groundwork and help set guidelines, including recommending a review to see if progress has been made.

An Upper St. Clair resident, Englert said the school district does an “excellent job” with young people, and there has been a decrease over the last five years in the number of students using heroin and opiate drugs.

Hornak said that there are a lot of different participants in the U.S. legal system and explained that at the federal level, judges view every case on its own merits, and each person individually on their own circumstances. Since federal court deals with matters of national importance, Hornak said it is a “big deal” when a matter gets to federal court.

“Federal and state judges do not have the discretion that local magistrates have,” said Hornak, adding that Larotonda sees people at the front end of a problem, where more options exist to correct the situation. When they get to the federal level, they enter a world of very hard reality, including no parole.

Hornak, the father of five children, told the audience that he could not think of a single criminal proceeding that didn’t have a dependency issue, and he offered parents some advice.

“If you have the opportunity to be there for someone, be there.” Hornak said some kids have no parents, or have a parent they can’t trust, so they need someone they can to talk to. He also advised “not be afraid to see what you see” and “if you see something, say something.” Hornak said parents need to fight the human instinct to stay out of people’s business, especially when it deals with young people.

Hornak said when he sees parents and families in federal court, he can tell they are asking themselves, “How did this come to right here, right now?”

Englert said there are things parents can do early on if they see a problem with their child. He recommended that if parents have any concerns about their child’s activities, call the police and work with them.

“We recognize what you’re going through and welcome working with you,” said Englert.

Englert also commented on the vacancy left by Judge Robert Wyda’s death last August. While experienced judges are filling the position on a temporary rotating basis, not having a permanent replacement for Wyda means that the police have to update each new judge.

When an audience member asked what needed to be done to get a replacement, State Senator Matt Smith (D-Mt. Lebanon), who was also in attendance, said that they were waiting for the governor’s office to name Wyda’s replacement. He suggested that citizens could write to the governor encouraging him to name someone to the post.

Larotonda said that no matter who the governor names to fill Wyda’s post, the residents of Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park would have the opportunity to vote for district magistrate in 2015.

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