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President judge says Italy an indelible part of her identity


Linda A. Cartisano is a proud native of Chester, Pennsylvania, with a substantial Italian influence.

Chester is important because it’s “a city of racial and ethnic diversity with residents of all income levels,” she said when she campaigned in 2009 for Common Pleas Court in Delaware County. “This has given me a perspective and history of dealing with people that allows me to see past the external appearance and deal with the person underneath.”

Italy is important because it’s half her heritage. Her mother was Irish, her father Italian, and his parents ventured out from South Philly every Thursday for dinners that strengthened their family bonds and helped instill her desire to grow and her work ethic.

“I was lucky to have a very progressive-thinking father who decided early on that his girls would go to college and pursue careers, the same as any boy being raised by an Italian family,” she said, referring to herself, her sister and her brother. “We were very lucky in that regard.”

“There’s a lot of fond memories of my grandparents speaking Italian around the table,” she said. “Most of the time we thought it was when they didn’t want us to understand.[But] my grandmother taught my brother all the minor curse words, and he thought he was learning something special.”

She’s traveled to Italy just once, with friends, and hopes to return to Capri and Taoramina, Sicily.

Her career – several decades as a lawyer and 13 years as a judge, and always caring about the community – has recently earned a few honors.

In January, the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce gave her an Athena award, an international honor named for the Greek goddess known for strength, courage, wisdom and enlightenment.

In June, she was elected by her peers on the bench as president judge for the Delaware County Board of Judges, a job responsible for a $50 million budget, 50 or so judges and 400-plus other employees. The assignment is for five years, with 70 percent of her time devoted to administration, with the rest given to Orphans’ Court, which handles estates and guardianships, drug treatment court and anywhere else she’s needed.

She is in no rush to make changes. “I don’t believe in change just to change,” she said. “I don’t throw things out just because someone else suggested them, thought of them or did them first. I think that you evaluate each move on its own merits.”

Cartisano earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Widener University and a law degree from Temple University.

Before becoming a judge, she maintained a private law practice and served as a solicitor for a half-dozen jurisdictions and agencies, including 13 years as city solicitor for Chester.

She also served two terms on Delaware County Council, ending as chairman, as chosen by her peers. And she made time
to better the community, volunteering with the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, the Chester Upland School Board, the Red Cross and the Media Theater. Being so active made her learn about efficiency. “You find time, you manage your time better.” Since becoming a judge, she’s cut back on all that volunteering to reduce conflicts of interest. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family and “reading anything that’s not legal.”

Of course, she’s seen the judicial system portrayed on TV – but never anyone confessing on the stand, as they did so often on “Perry Mason.” “Every TV show has a little bit of reality in it. It’s a nice wrapped-up package, ” she said, noting that real life is
“not as fast-paced or exciting.”

She has lived most of her life in Chester, moving a half-dozen years ago to Garnet Valley.

In an interview, she talked more about the importance of diversity and unity. Chester “was a great place growing up because it was a great neighborhood. Everyone played together, hung together, ran around together. And I think it showed the interaction of different nationalities, different races and being able to enjoy everyday activities. It was a great way to establish relationships.”

Most of her judicial career has been in Family Court. “The hardest cases are when you had two good parents, and both parties want the children 100 percent of the time. That’s totally understandable but not practical. you hope that the parents resolve it themselves. They know their children best. They know themselves. Our mandate is what’s in the best interest of the child. Not necessarily what’s fair to the parents.”

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