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Judge Caprio Shares The Biggest Mistake He Ever Made On A Case That Still 'Haunts' Him To This Day

Photo: By StephanieRPereira - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Judge Frank Caprio

For most do-gooders, there is usually an influential moment from their past that inevitably inspired them to dedicate their lives to service.

In addition to his career on the bench of Providence, Rhode Island's municipal court, Judge Frank Caprio has also devoted his life to helping others. And he recently opened up about a turning-point experience that changed him forever.

When an interviewer asked about Judge Frank Caprio's biggest mistake, he revealed a case that 'haunts' him and became a major turning point in his life

Caprio's philanthropy and acts of benevolence both in and outside the courtroom have become legendary, and have made his reality television show "Caught In Providence" a major success as well. But it was his first-ever court case that Judge Caprio credits as his biggest mistake, as well as a major turning point in his life.

Caprio has long credited his father, Antonio, and mother, Filomena, with inspiring his generosity and goodwill. As he recently revealed, his father figured heavily in what he calls his biggest mistake and a major turning point in his life, and it's easy to see why he became such a do-gooder given what he learned from the experience.

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Judge Caprio's biggest mistake involved a single mother who couldn't pay her parking tickets.

"I get upset even thinking about it," Caprio said in a recent video in which he was asked the one case that has most stuck with him after 38 years on the bench. "To this day — and I was on the bench for 38 years — I still think of that case."



The moment came during his first day on the bench as a judge, and because of the momentous occasion, Caprio's father decided to join him. "My dad… was maybe the most decent man I ever met in my life," he said, "just a kind, gentle man." So he was honored to have his dad in the courtroom that day.

"A woman came before me who had three kids," Caprio went on to say. "She owed… 300 dollars worth of parking tickets, and she said, I just can't pay them. I don't have the money." Caprio tried to reason with her and offered a payment plan, but the woman was adamant. "She says, 'I just can't pay. I don't care, I can't pay. I have three kids. I just can't pay.'"

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Caprio responded by refusing to reduce the woman's fines, a move that left his father in disbelief.

Caprio said that since it was his first day on the bench, "no one's going to pull the wool over my eyes, right?" Eager to make his mark and establish himself as the opposite of a pushover judge, he responded to the woman's adamance by refusing to help her. 

"I said, okay, fine's $300," and to drive the point home he added, "and now if you don't pay, your car is going to get booted." After the case, Caprio met up with his father in his chambers, eager to hear how proud his dad was of him. Instead, his father was heartbroken.

"'Frank, that woman,'" his dad said in astonishment. "'That woman who had three kids… you fined her.'" Caprio replied that he'd done so because she was arrogant, which his father immediately contradicted. "He said, 'She was scared, you should have talked to her, should have understood her problems. You can't treat people like that, Frank.'" 

That was all Caprio needed to hear, and it completely changed the course of his life and career. "It never happened again after that," he said. "Never. And that case, I can never, ever forget."

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Years later, Caprio started a charity for single mothers after an experience with a similar case.

Caprio has since gone on to do all kinds of good deeds both in and outside the courtroom. He's founded multiple charities and community outreach organizations, from scholarship funds and food banks to initiatives to help juvenile offenders and even the early 80s restoration of the Statue of Liberty.

But perhaps the closest to his heart is the Filomena Fund, a charity that helps single mothers in need. The fund was inspired by "Caught in Providence" viewer Angie Chesser, herself a single mother, who sent Caprio an unsolicited $25 donation to help a single mom who appeared on Caprio's show. Similar to his very first case, this woman could not pay her parking tickets.

The charity, named for Caprio's mother, has raised funds for numerous causes and organizations, most notably Federal Hill House, a community center in the Providence neighborhood Caprio grew up in that was near and dear to Filomena Caprio's heart for its aid to parents and children in the area. 

All of us make terrible calls over the course of our lives, but all of them are chances to learn valuable lessons. And if we're able to keep our minds and hearts open as Caprio and his father did, our mistakes can also become opportunities to do enormous good for others.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.