Retired Judge Bova known for firm, fair action in Baldwin, Brentwood
The mother smiled as she exited the courtroom alongside her son.
“That judge is a good dude. He's a fair man,” she told anyone who would listen in the oddly quiet office area at the entrance to the old Wallace School building in Baldwin Borough, as she waited for paperwork for her son, who just had a hearing before District Judge John “Jack” Bova.
Being fair, firm and compassionate to everyone he encountered during more than a decade on the bench was important, Bova said.
Bova, 65, retired on Dec. 31 after 16 years as magisterial district judge for Baldwin and Brentwood boroughs. Prior to that, he was the mayor of Baldwin Borough for four years and a councilman for six years. There are two years left on his district-judge term that will be filled by rotating senior judges.
“I always try to treat people with respect,” Bova said. “I've learned so much from the people that I've talked to.”
It's those day-to-day interactions with the people in Baldwin and Brentwood — and his staff — that Bova said he's going to miss the most in his retirement.
Bova once had dreams of running for a seat on the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board, he said.
He approached longtime Baldwin Borough councilman and mayor Samuel McPherson with the idea. McPherson told him, “No.”
“He said, ‘I want you for council,'” Bova said.
As a volunteer at St. Albert the Great Parish, Bova knew a lot of people in the borough.
He won his first four-year term on Baldwin Council in 1988, then the one after that.
Yet, after only six years on council, he ran for mayor. He won that election, too, and served as Baldwin's mayor from 1994 to 1998. McPherson, whom Bova calls his “mentor and friend” and was instrumental in getting him involved in politics, died in 2012.
As a councilman and mayor, Bova said, he and several of his colleagues had a simple approach: they wanted to lead Baldwin Borough.
“I understand we are public servants,” Bova said.
During his tenure in office, the Baldwin Borough Public Library was moved from the municipal building to the old Wallace School building, which is more centrally located for all borough residents to use, Bova said.
“It gives everybody the chance to use it,” Bova said. “We tried to lead. It was always talking to the community and understanding what their needs are.”
Baldwin Emergency Medical Services also was moved to an old racquetball club, its current home on Readshaw Way, off Route 51, said Bova, who served as vice president for all six years he was on borough council.
The Baldwin Borough police department also received accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement during his tenure, Bova said, and he worked to start a volunteer recognition night that is still ongoing each year.
After four years as Baldwin's mayor, Bova won the seat as the district judge for Court 05-2-18 for Baldwin and Brentwood boroughs.
He received a certification for criminal law, the landlord-tenant act, search and seizures, and other requirements for the district-judge seat from Wilson College.
The area sales manager for Turner Dairy Farms, Bova attempted to work both jobs, at first, but that didn't last long. After about 25 years with Turner Dairy, he said he made the choice to spend more time with his family and focus on working only as a district judge.
When he started as district judge, Bova oversaw 2,900 dispositions a year. In 2013, there were nearly 6,000.
Most of the criminal cases are driving under the influence, domestic abuse, disorderly conduct, drugs and retail theft, he said.
“It's people from all over,” Bova said.
When he started, all of this was a surprise for him.
“I didn't realize there was this much going on in the community. We're a bedroom community. You don't realize that all of this is going on right there in your own neighborhood,” Bova said.
The judge said he likes to talk to people. After all, this is their first encounter in the judicial system — and, he hopes, their last.
Bova said he was happy to have a person visit him only once during his time in office.
If a person never returned to Bova's court in Baldwin Borough, that meant his efforts to steer them away from wrong doing and to “think before you act” were successful.
“If you leave here and I don't see you again, I'm the happiest person in the world,” Bova said.
He sent people to classes for domestic abuse or underage drinking and reminded them to “please think before you act.”
Being fair, though, was most important.
“Judge Bova was the most fair of all judges,” said Don Makowski, the elected constable for Brentwood, who worked with Bova since he started. “If a guy was guilty, he was guilty. If a guy was innocent, he was innocent.
“If they knew him, they knew they were getting a fair deal,” Makowski said.
“He was a street kid growing up. Nobody gave him something on a silver spoon. He didn't forget that.”
Bova was given a citation for his years of service from Baldwin Borough officials and state representatives Harry Readshaw and Bill Kortz.
Bova did what he thought was right, no matter what, said Jim Hagan, Baldwin Borough's elected constable.
“He ruled according to the law,” Hagan said. “He put friendships and all of that aside.”
Staffers described Bova as “down to earth,” consistent, smart and easy going, while creating a good work environment.
Bova is retiring to spend more time with his family and travel. He will work as a senior judge.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.