Longtime City of Lebanon Magisterial District Judge Thomas M. Capello has announced his resignation, effective January 5, 2020.
Capello, whose office is located at 502 State Drive, was appointed to the position in 1989 to complete the term of MDJ Catherine Coyle, who had retired. After finishing Coyle’s unexpired term, Capello was elected to five more six-year terms. His current term will expire in January, 2022.
Magisterial District Judges, once known as Justices of the Peace, are the first level of Pennsylvania’s judicial system. They handle landlord-tenant disputes, traffic tickets, many types of civil lawsuits involving claims up to $12,000, and the preliminary stages of criminal cases.
Under Pennsylvania law the governor will appoint a successor to fill the vacancy, subject to state senate approval by a majority vote.
After graduating from Lebanon High School in 1970, Capello enlisted in the Army and spent three years as an infantry medic in Korea. That was followed by 12 years in the Lebanon Police Department, where he retired as a detective to become an MDJ.
Capello is married to Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello.
When asked why he is retiring in mid-term, and well before he hits the mandatory retirement age of 75, Capello was blunt. “You know when you know,” he said in an early morning interview before his office opened. “I was just sitting here and I realized that I had been hearing the same things for 30 years, and I knew it was time to go.”
“The most difficult cases for me were abuse of children. They take a toll on you.”
An MDJ can roll up some big numbers over 30 years. Capello estimates that he has presided at more than 2,500 weddings, issued over 150,000 arrest warrants, and had over 175,000 cases of all types filed in his office. He pointed out that these numbers, huge as they may seem, are audited annually by the state.
Capello has seen changes in his job over three decades: a more diverse population that has increased the need for language interpreters, same sex weddings, and video arraignments of arrestees, which eliminate the need for on-call MDJs to drive to the courthouse at all hours of the day and night.
And he appreciates the support that he and the other county MDJs have always received from the four Lebanon County President Judges he served under: G. Thomas Gates, John Walter, Robert Eby, and John Tylwalk.
Capello has no immediate plans for retirement, but he’s not worried. “I don’t have any hobbies, but I’ll keep busy. Something will come along.”
Do you believe these stories matter?
Same here. Did you know that our stories are free to read thanks to the support of our members and advertisers? Help us tell more stories of Lebanon County’s past by joining LebTown as a member.
Join LebTown as an annual member and you’ll reserve a limited-edition LebTown coffee mug of your own, plus all the usual benefits!
Learn more and join now here.
Full Disclosure: Catherine Coyle is the author’s mother. She was not involved in the reporting or production of this article.