Move over, Judge Judy. In Johnston, it’s now Judge Jackie.
That’s Jacqueline M. Grasso, Esq., who was sworn in as chief judge of Johnston Municipal Court by Mayor Joseph Polisena last Wednesday.
Grasso, an accomplished attorney who had been the court’s associate judge since 2012, succeeds the Hon. Michael DiChiro Jr. Tomorrow, DiChiro will be officially be sworn in as magistrate of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal.
With that, Polisena – along with the Municipal Court staff headed by clerk Richard DelFino Jr. and clerks Karen Russo and Julie Zira — held a special passing of the gavel ceremony for Grasso and DiChiro last week to honor both Johnston residents “for their outstanding work in our court.”
"We’re going to miss you, Michael,” Polisena said while presenting DiChiro – who has served on the Municipal Court since 2000 – with a plaque. It reads: “In appreciation for 20 years of dedicated service as the Johnston Municipal Court Chief Judge.”
The mayor, who DiChiro praised for transforming the former Marian J. Mohr Memorial Library into what he called “the best municipal courthouse in the state,” told a small gathering: “We certainly wish you the very best; your appointment to the traffic court is a great thing for the state and people of Rhode Island.”
During his tenure in Johnston, DiChiro handled all municipal violations – including traffic offenses, housing, animal control, zoning and municipal violations – and presided over all screenings, pre-trials and trials. Until his recent appointment as magistrate, he was the longest-sitting municipal court chief judge in the state.
“Mike DiChiro has the ideal judicial temperament,” DelFino said. “He is fair and a true broker of justice. He listens, is compassionate and knows the law. He is most interested in removing barriers to people becoming successful. Sometimes costs and fines can be overwhelming for working families. Mike tries to work with them by offering alternatives or giving them additional time to resolve outstanding issues. Mike DiChiro is a true gentleman.”
DiChiro, who sits on the Board of Directors for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, has an extensive resume dating back to his younger years when he graduated summa cum laude from Boston College in 1983.
In 1986, he received his law degree from Suffolk University Law School, where he was elected to the Phi Delta Phi National Honor Society and earned dean’s list honors. He has operated his law firm in Johnston since 1986.
Perhaps the inscription on an award the Municipal Court staff presented to DiChiro last week best sums up his career as a judge.
“Your legacy will remain here forever,” reads the wording on the award, a beautiful Lucite clock.
DiChiro also heaped words of praised upon Grasso, as did Polisena and DelFino.
She’s has 20 years of experience as a municipal court judge, previously working for six years in Bristol before her time in Johnston. Grasso has presided over hearings for motor vehicles, disorderly conduct, animal control, harbor patrol, zoning, municipal and noise ordinance hearings, violations and underage drinking.
She’s also the sole practitioner/proprietor of Grasso Law Offices at 1310 Atwood Ave. and is a graduate of Southern New England School of Law – now known as UMass Dartmouth Law School – and Providence College.
Grasso has an impressive resume that includes several prestigious awards, such as being the first-ever recipient of the Pro Bono Publico Award for providing pro bono service to low-income individuals and offering bimonthly legal clinics.
“I want to express my gratitude to Mayor Polisena and Town Council for having the confidence and trust in me to serve as the Municipal Court judge,” Grasso said. “I look forward to my continued service to the town.”
She is the daughter of Joe Grasso and late Frances Grasso, also of Johnston.