Former Spanish major Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio ’82 translated her impactful study abroad experience into a career in law. Now as the first female president judge in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, she makes life and death decisions that affect the lives of everyday people.
Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?
As a liberal-arts student, I had a larger and more diverse student experience. Although Dickinson is a small school, the ability to travel abroad enlarged my world and therefore my worldview and experience. The other benefit of a liberal-arts education is the training to see people from a broader perspective. As the first woman president judge of my county, I have interacted with and worked with people from every aspect of society. I am able to listen to and appreciate the perspectives of others without allowing them to unjustly influence my perspectives. As I judge, I must not allow my personal opinions and prejudices to influence my decisions in the court room. The law must guide me regardless of my personal bias—a skill very under-appreciated today.
What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?
I had the ability to be involved in many activities I may not have participated in in a larger school. Two highlights were starting a school Spanish newsletter and giving tours to prospective students. Although not formal organizations, I was able to work on a personal level with the Department of Spanish and interact directly with prospective students. About five years ago, I was welcoming a jury panel to our court. One of the prospective jurors approached me and remembered that I had given him a tour of Dickinson (it had to be over 30 years ago!), which in turn influenced his decision to attend and his career thereafter. Blew me away!
How has Dickinson’s focus on global education impacted your life or career since graduation?
Studying abroad was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I lived in Madrid, Spain, for the year, worked, studied and socialized in ways that would never be possible in the States. I became a more independent and confident member of society. I learned how to interact with people from all walks of life and enjoy varied cultural experiences. In my field of work, I deal with people from every socio-economic, cultural and political end of our society and the ability to connect with so many varied people came directly from my experience abroad.
My first job out of law school was working at the public defender’s office where I represented many Spanish-speaking defendants—clearly a job that would not have been possible but for Spanish fluency that came directly from my year abroad. From there, with my trial experience, I was able to secure a coveted position with the United States Attorney’s Office. These two jobs trained me for my position on the trial bench. So I guess I can say that my year abroad influenced and made possible my career today.
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
The friendships I acquired and still maintain.
How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?
I was always intrigued by the law and the opportunities presented through it. I can honestly say I have loved every legal job I have had. Sadly, there are far too few lawyers that say that. I worked in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware for nine years. As a relatively small office, I was able to spread my wings. I started the first Asset Forfeiture Unit, prosecuted large-scale drug cases, traveling to other parts of the country to do so, and worked on bankruptcies and health care cases. I worked cases alongside federal agents from the investigation through prosecution. Everything about that job thrilled me. I became the first woman chief public defender in our county, representing those who were unable to afford private representation in criminal cases. From there, I was the solicitor for the county, creating county trails, representing the health department, working on the Barnes Foundation case and expanding the real estate interests of the county. I have had the ability to work in so many different areas of the law and help to change the direction of many offices. In 2009, I was fortunate enough to be elected to our county trial bench. Once on the bench, I also became the president of our 3000-member bar association and remained involved in the local community. I began an art contest for senior citizens to adorn the walls of our courthouse and started a leadership academy for our newest lawyers. The opportunities for a lawyer to be part of her society and do good are endless. I feel like I have been in a unique position to influence lawyers of our future and help the citizens of my county.
What does your current work entail?
As the president judge of our trial court, I am responsible for not only the 24 judges on my bench but also manage a staff of over 670 court employees and administer a combined budget over $60 million dollars. I continue to preside over all types of cases that appear in our court. Many of our cases are truly life and death decisions. We hear criminal cases ranging from retail thefts to murders, medical malpractice cases and property owner disputes. We touch the lives of everyday persons.
What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?
Professionally, I have achieved all of my goals. I have appeared in a movie and argued before the third circuit court of appeals. I have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world. I have raised three beautiful, caring and productive young men and have a loving and supportive husband. I am blessed to still have both of my parents alive to share our successes and sorrows with. There is nothing more I could ever ask for.