Sometimes it seems like all we see on the internet is chaos from the world we live in. You can find yourself cringing at the news you scroll through on social media. Every once in a while, however, you see something that makes you smile and suddenly everything feels a little better. Well when I had the opportunity to chat with viral sensation and now television star, Judge Frank Caprio, I smiled for the entirety of our conversation…and my day was suddenly all better!
The Rhode Island Judge has been presiding over courtrooms for more than thirty years but it’s his unique sense of compassion that has made the internet fall in love with him. Unlike some of the other judges we’ve seen in the media, Judge Caprio rules with understanding and takes the time to learn the circumstances surrounding the incident in question. Because of this, videos from Judge Caprio’s trials have gone viral and are now documented on a daily, national television series entitled Caught In Providence.
What made you decide to study and eventually practice law?
Surprisingly that started when I was 10 years old. My father was an immigrant who came from Italy. Just a working class family who lived in a cold water flat with a potbelly stove. My dad was talking to my brother and I, he said to me with his finger pointed at me “someday you are going to be a lawyer.” I can tell you honestly and sincerely that I never ever wanted to be anything else. My father instilled that spark in me. He also said life will be tough, the road will be hard and tough going but “don’t ever give up.” And he was right on both counts. This all started with the family unit, the basic unit of society and I think one of the sins of our country today has been the dissemination of the family unit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to go to law school. So, when I graduated from college the only way I could go to law school was to work days and go to school nights. I taught school in Providence and commuted nights to Boston, 50 miles away, for four years so I could get my law degree.
You’re famous for saying that you don’t have a badge under your robe, but a heart. Was there ever a time in your career where you felt you had to be a bit more hardened?
I never felt any other way. I never felt I had to be stern and strict. I always felt that I had to be myself. I always felt that I had to never forget where I came from, a hardworking family from a working class neighborhood. I always felt, based on the lessons I learned from my parents, that everyone should be treated with decency and respect and fairness. AND compassion.
I get parents coming in with four kids and I know if I charge them with the maximum or even half the maximum, those kids aren’t going to eat that night. Or maybe they cannot pay their electric bill. Or they cannot pay their fuel bill and the heat won’t be on that night in the cold, dead of winter. If I don’t take those factors into consideration, shame on me.
You have five children, two of which are attorneys themselves. Do they practice with as much compassion as you have?
After my dad told me that I should become a lawyer he said “remember one thing, you can’t charge poor people.” My kids came to work for me and I gave them that same lesson. I said “we can’t charge poor people,” and they said “dad?!” (Chuckles) But my sons have an active social conscious and they are very warm, compassionate and understanding. They get that from their mother.
Judge, you have been judging for a long time, over 30 years in fact! What is the craziest excuse someone has given you to get out of paying their fine?
I have had excuses you just can’t believe. I’ll give you a simple one that is actually funny. A gentleman came in, he was charged with speeding. He looked at me and he scrunched his face up. I said to him “is there anything you want to tell me about this offense?” He said “judge, it’s the shoes. I just bought a brand new pair of shoes and I didn’t have a chance to break them in. I didn’t realize how hard I was pressing on the gas pedal.”
I also had a fella come in, he was in his mid thirties. Charged with speeding. Same situation “is there anything you want to tell me?” He scrunched his face up and looked a little embarrassed. He said “I received a call at work. My wife told me she was ovulating. I was rushing home.” I asked him if it worked and he said “no” so I felt bad for him and dismissed the case.
It’s official. You are famous! You have a tv show and everything. Has fame changed you at all?
Well we’re really not a show. We are actually a court preceding. We are spontaneous. We’re unrehearsed. The people are actually summoned to court by the municipality. They don’t know what judge they are going before and I don’t know who is coming before me. (Chuckles) I don’t take myself too seriously. In my neighborhood, my friends still call me “Frankie.” [The show] makes me more humble.
We all want to know…who is your favorite TV Judge?
I actually think they’re all good. I enjoy watching all of them. I think, by and large, Judge Judy set the standard. We have to give her credit, she really did set the standard. I think she does a great job. But I think they all do a good job, so if I can be half as good as them I’ll be happy.
Half as good?! I hope the humble judge knows he is right on top with the other television judges.
Next time you need a dose of happy be sure to tune into Judge Caprio on Caught In Providence. You won’t be disappointed! Check out this adorable clip of how the judge interacts with children in the courtroom.
Click here to find out when you can watch Caught In Providence.