Success has been hit and miss when Olszewski employs creativity.
David Weiss firstname.lastname@example.org
WILKES-BARRE – Ordering defendants to learn English wasn’t the first time Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. has gotten creative to give criminals a chance to better their lives and avoid jail.
But has it worked the other times?
Does he send the ones who ignore him to prison?
Sure does. And it’s usually for a while.
One of Olszewski’s first unusual sentences came in 2001.
That’s when he gave eighth-grade dropout Joshua Gyle, then 17, a chance to stay out of jail on a theft charge if he went to go back to school and graduated high school.
If Gyle didn’t make it, that would be a violation of his probation and Olszewski would re-sentence Gyle to prison.
Gyle was thrilled for the chance.
He thanked the judge.
Then he failed miserably.
Two years later, at 19 years old, Gyle appeared before Olszewski, a Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judge, after getting arrested and failing to go to school.
Olszewski held his promise and sent Gyle to state prison for two and a half to five years.
“I bent over backwards to help you,” an upset Olszewski said at the time. “And you know what you did? You thumbed your nose at me.”
The judge tried it another time in 2002.
He gave 17-year-old Maurice Cooley the same option on indecent assault charges.
It got the same result.
In February 2003, Olszewski re-sentenced Cooley to 18 to 36 months in state prison after violating his probation by getting arrested.
But Olszewski’s had other sentences that have worked.
He’s made it a common practice to order defendants who appear before him to maintain a full-time job while they are on probation or parole.
But sometimes they’d tell him they couldn’t find work.
So Olszewski and his tip staff Ron Zukosky started helping find the defendants jobs through a work agency.
The judge once touted having a 100 percent employment rate.
“The problem here is most criminal defendants that come before me aren’t employed,” he said in a 2004 interview.
Having a job, he has said, allows defendants to gain income and keeps them occupied, preventing them from having time to commit additional crimes.
He hopes the same happens in his most recent attention-grabbing decision.
He decided to order Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez, Kelvin Reyes-Rosario and Rafael Guzman-Mateo to learn to read and write the English language as a condition of their parole on criminal conspiracy charges.
He made the decision after he saw each of them needed translators when they appeared in court Tuesday.
He also ordered them to earn their GED and get a job.
The purpose of the language condition, he said, was not to punish the defendants, but help them, like he did for Cooley, Gyle, and all those he’s helped find jobs.
Learning the language, he said, will help the four earn their GED, get a job and hopefully succeed without committing crimes.
It will be a year before he finds out if this creative ruling works.
That’s when the four defendants will be back in court to take an English test.
If they pass, they’ll stay free.
If they fail, they’ll face the wrath that Gyle and Cooley faced after ignoring hard-nosed judge.
David Weiss, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7397.