Judge gave people chance to right wrongs
Rather than rely on defendants in drug cases to find and sign up for rehab programs, District Judge Robert C. Wyda brought the programs to his courtroom.
When dealing with juvenile offenders, Judge Wyda slipped parents his cellphone number and instructions to call if their child was in danger of getting into more trouble. He was known to personally visit the homes of truant kids to roust them from bed.
“He was almost like a social worker first, asking, ‘How can I make sure this doesn't happen again? How can I protect the victim? And how can I make sure the defendant doesn't end up back in my courtroom again?' ” said District Judge Blaise Larotonda of Mt. Lebanon, a former police officer who used to tease Judge Wyda, a former attorney, about how often they agreed from the bench.
Magisterial District Judge Robert C. Wyda, who served the South Hills for more than 13 years, died in his Bethel Park home on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, of an apparent heart attack. He was 54.
A Bethel Park native and 1986 graduate of Duquesne University Law School, Judge Wyda was an Allegheny County assistant district attorney and an assistant court administrator for legal affairs in Common Pleas Court before running for judge.
He was a commander in the Navy Reserve JAG Corps, serving in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, Cuba, investigating prisoners suspected of belonging to terrorist groups.
Elected to Bethel Park's magisterial court in 1999, he took office in 2000 and quickly took the lead in helping the community deal with an epidemic of heroin addiction, said police Officer James Modrak, who worked with Judge Wyda as Bethel Park's school resource officer.
He made himself available to defendants' families, police and school officials almost around the clock, often meeting with them on weekends and taking one day a month to visit public and private schools in his magisterial district, which merged with Upper St. Clair's in 2007, Modrak said. At Bethel Park High School graduations, Judge Wyda would attend in his Navy uniform to recognize graduates who signed up for military service, Modrak said.
“He was the kind of guy who saw the good in people, felt people deserved the chance to set things right,” said Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey, who started his job the day Judge Wyda did, in the same municipal complex.
“It's going to be a tremendous loss, not only because of his professional skills and abilities, but as a friend,” Mackey said.
Judge Wyda is survived by his wife, Shannon, son, Jared, daughter, Rachel, and mother, Martha, all of Bethel Park. He was preceded in death by his father, Robert.
Viewings will be held in Beinhauer Funeral Home in Peters from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday. Funeral services start at 1 p.m., with interment to follow in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer.