Pittsford Town Justice Fred Gallina rode a Harley-Davidson, had a sarcastic sense of humor and tried to help his defendants even as he sentenced them, some colleagues recalled Thursday.
Justice Gallina officially announced his retirement Oct. 15, ending a 13-year run on the Pittsford bench and a lengthy career that included time in the Monroe County District Attorney’s office.
Fellow Pittsford Town Justice John Bernacki said Justice Gallina has a sharp sense of humor and pointed to his colleague’s resignation letter as evidence.
“Although it is common to hear from outgoing public servants that they are ‘looking forward to spending more time with their families,’ rest assured that I intend to play more golf, read and swim as much as I can without the constant interference of my wife and children,” Justice Gallina wrote to Pittsford Supervisor William Carpenter in his resignation, with tongue firmly planted in his cheek. “I may try to raise some money for [multiple sclerosis] research, so keep your checkbook handy when I call.”
Justice Bernacki said Justice Gallina had the crowd rolling at a recent Monroe County Magistrates Association event where he spoke, but humor wasn’t what completely made Justice Gallina, he said.
“I also see the other side of him, where he’s been a great mentor to me,” Justice Bernacki said. “He’s respected by his fellow judges, the members of the bar, the district attorney’s office, the public defenders office, and I think he’s even respected by the defendants in front of him.”
He said Justice Gallina taught him a great deal after he was appointed to his position in 2008.
“I’ve heard from other judges in other towns and they really didn’t ever have anyone mentor them,” Bernacki said. “I’ve got to say no one ever asked Judge Gallina to do it. I’m grateful to him.”
On Thursday, Justice Gallina said the perception is out there that being a town judge entails little more than handing out fines for speeding tickets and parking violations.There’s more to the job than just traffic court, he said.
“Pretty much everything legal that comes before the town, comes before you,” said Justice Gallina, 62.
Justice Gallina handled murder arraignments, zoning issues and other serious work, but said he also saw his share of wacky events. He’s married couples dressed like medieval knights and one couple that tried to pull an advertising stunt.
“One wedding, I don’t know if it was a scam or a reality, but they wanted to get married in the back seat of a Mitsubishi, and they wanted me to stand on the hood of the car and pronounce them man and wife,” he said with a laugh. “But I wouldn’t do that. … It ended up on the 6 o’clock news.”
Justice Gallina grew up in Rochester, went to East High School then St. John Fisher College and the Pepperdine University School of Law in California. He was a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office and eventually served as chief of violent felonies. He entered general practice before running for town justice.
He’s lived in Pittsford for 35 years, raising three children with his wife Marilyn, a retired school social worker.
Justice Gallina said he tried to keep the community in mind when he handed down sentences, which is why he started to funnel community service hours to Pittsford Little League. He said typically young people caught in mischievous crimes can have their community hours go to serving the community.
“They would actually have to work, not smoke and joke around and hang out on the street,” Justice Gallina said. “The most significant experience was watching young people with difficulties and helping them through those rough spots, being a firm voice in their maturation.”
Tom Durkin, staff counsel for Allstate Insurance and former president of Pittsford Little League, said: “The wonderful thing about what [Justice Gallina] set up was he’d have mostly local high school and college kids who might make a poor choice give back to their community on these fields that are enjoyed by roughly 1,000 kids.”
“They would, first of all, be doing supervised outdoor work, and, secondly, whether it was me or someone else with them, we would try to talk to them and provide some guidance for what they were doing with school and work aspirations,” Durkin said. “In many ways, it was more than just community service. We had people, when their hours were up, come back as volunteers.”
Durkin said the community service program gave young people an opportunity with their punishment, not just a fine or time.
Justice Gallina said he’ll be spending his winters in Florida from now on, golfing and swimming. He also wants to write a crime novel.
“I certainly want to do at least one,” he said. “I think I have a good sense of humor, and there are things I learned and saw in the DA’s office that will make for interesting stories.”
He also plans to do some fundraising for multiple sclerosis, a cause that hits close to home. Justice Gallina was diagnosed with the illness two years ago.
“There’s no cure for MS,” he said. “There are only some treatments available. They obviously need some money. If I can help them, I will.”
Justice Bernacki said the diagnosis hasn’t stopped Justice Gallina from performing his duties.
“Mentally and emotionally, he’s right on,” Justice Bernacki said. “He may not feel it, but he is. He’s sharp as a tack.”
Justice Gallina’s last day on the job will be Dec. 23.