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On the Job with Ralph Scoccimaro

ALBANY — Albany attorney Ralph Scoccimaro grew up with the love of languages and the desire to learn several of them.

That love was fueled by his parents while growing up in New Jersey. His father, Guissepe Francesco, (AKA Joseph Francis) was Italian and came to America at the age of 10. He was a mechanic and became a successful businessman, owning a shop and service station in New Jersey.

THE SCOCCIMARO FILE

NAME: Ralph O. Scoccimaro

AGE: 58. Born November 1954, in Hoboken, N.J.

POSITION: Attorney with private practice and associate judge with Municipal Court in Albany.

FAMILY: Scoccimaro is married to the former Susan Wacaser, a registered nurse, from Bainbridge. His daughter, Annamarie, graduated from The Darlington School at Rome and is a sophomore at Davidson College in North Carolina, where she is a pre-vet major. His son, Nicholas, is a senior at The Darlington School. He plays varsity lacrosse and is a ROTC candidate.

EDUCATION: Educated in public schools in New Jersey and Florida. Received a BA in 1980 at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Received law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

MILITARY: Joined the Marine Corps in 1971. After training, Scoccimaro was ordered to Naval Security Group command in Southeast Asia where he worked in the cryptologic field against Russian and North Vietnamese communications threats. He monitored North Vietnamese communication, non-voice, during major American offenses.

CAREER: Scoccimaro went to work for the Georgia Migrant Project in Tifton in 1984. He transferred to Georgia Legal Services in 1985 and worked under Judge Willie Lockette for two years, mostly doing consumer defense work. He went into solo practice in 1985 and formed Brown, Phillips, and Scoccimaro PC. It later became Brown and Scoccimario.

His mother, Matildo Sierra Rodriquez, was born in San Juan, PR, and came to the mainland soon after Dec. 7, 1941 at the age of 18 and became a “Rosie Rivetter” on merchant ships being built in New York City.

“My father spoke Italian and a couple of dialects and learned Spanish from my mother and her family and friends,” Scoccimaro said. “The languages are so similar that it came easy for him.

“I have always had proud memories as a young child of my father, Joe, speaking to a customer in the very ethnic sections of New Jersey in Italian and then turning around and speaking to a Cuban or Puerto Rican customer in Spanish about the problems with their cars. This had a huge impact on my desire to learn both languages.”

That ability paid off for Scoccimaro, helping him land his first job in Georgia with the Georgia Migrant Project in Tifton.

Scoccimaro also loves to cook. His mother was a great cook, serving up a variety of Puerto Rican and Italian dishes. If he were not in the courtroom, Scoccimaro says he’d love to be an executive chef.

Scoccimaro shared much more about his background in a question-and-answer session with Danny Carter.

Q. What was your very first job?

A. Worked for my father in his service station at the age of 9 through high school.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. Since I was only 9 I spent the $5 I made at a toy store down the block from the garage in West New York, NJ. I bought a racoon hat because I thought I could be like Daniel Boone.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Demonstrating great care for my clients and never giving up on them, even if it takes years to conclude to achieve a good result. This work ethic is transferred over to the employees by observation. In addition, I praise good work and frown at poor work. And lastly, if the firm is making money, bonuses are given on a merit basis.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. When I arrived in Georgia in 1984 with $500 in my pocket, I had just passed the California Bar and was searching for a job. I saw that the Georgia Migrant Project (Georgia Legal Services) in Tifton needed a bilingual attorney, and I walked in the door and met Betty Walker Lanier, managing attorney. I was given a 15 minute oral exam by a native speaker and was hired. We went to farms all over Georgia helping migrants secure better housing and medical care for their children. We even uncovered some operations that were being operated like slave labor camps, where the worker was so indebted to the overseers that they weren’t able to leave. At times we were chased off the property at the end of shot gun. I then transferred to the Albany office of Ga Legal Services, managed by Willie Lockette. He took a leap of faith in hiring me and that is what inspired me several years later to take my own leap of faith and start my own practice. Operating my own business gave me the freedom to represent anyone I wanted without restriction. Legal services had noble but strict parameters in which their lawyers could operate.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. My late brother-in-law, Gilbert Nicholas, who was a pharmacist and a high school chemistry teacher. I named my son after him. He encouraged me, during late night conversations at a New Jersey diner to go to college. His words that “Ralph, your chances of success in the world are exponentially improved if you obtain a college education” kept reverberating in my mind until I achieved that goal. A mentor as a lawyer would be Judge Willie Lockette. I learned by observation. He never lost his cool and was very methodical ,deliberative and organized. Most importantly, he taught me to be kind to everyone, no matter how foolish they may act. He is the same way as a judge as he was as a manager.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. You must be prepared. The only preparation I know is to save money. I save money like it is a tithe. I never touch it. It has only been recently that we’ve had to dip into reserves. But it will be replenished. Never rely on someone else for help, especially the government. We never borrow money to fund our litigation. This ethic must be taught to the personnel. People of the same work ethic and morals will be the same people you have when times get tough.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?

A. Texting. I think it poses one of the worst dangers to the motoring public next to DUI. If a device could be designed to prevent texting while moving, that might alleviate the problem a great deal. The world was operating fine before texting and it will continue to do so if they put a few restrictions on its use. Laws won’t do the job.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A.My iPad without a doubt. I can connect to the web anywhere and obtain information on anything at anytime. I am in the information business. I must have information at any time and place. At times a judge may ask me for a case citation. Before, we had to walk down to the library for an hour or more. Now, with a few key strokes on my iPad in the courtroom I can secure the information in minutes.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. My father was Italian and my mother was Puerto Rican. That makes for some fun and interesting family gatherings. Growing up, my mother cooked Puerto Rican food but always had a side Italian dish for my father. So, I suppose following in that tradition, I make a huge lasagna that cooks while we are attending Christmas Eve Mass at St Teresa’s Catholic Church, and the next day we make roast pork ( as substitute for the whole pig) and red beans and rice or pasteles. And eat the leftover lasagna, of course.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. “Deciphering the Rising Sun” about the WWII code breakers and Japanese linguists. I also just finished “Destiny of the Republic- It was about President James Garfield, his would-be assassin, and how he was killed by medical incompetence and hubris. If they had listened to Dr. James Lister, the president would not have died of septicimia six months after he was shot. I read everthing. I enjoy all genres. I love history, and languages. I make it my business to spend at least 10 minutes per day reading Spanish, Italian and French dialogues. I supplement that with watching Spanish TV or French radio on Sirius XM.

Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. Sleep is not my friend. My mind never seems to rest. I keep a note pad at the side of my bed for ideas that come to me during the five times per night that I wake up. So morning is not my best time of the day. I walk my boxer, LULU, and then have a hearty breakfast while reading The Herald. My day is not complete without working out at the YMCA, which has been a ritual since 1984.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. Pope Frances. I have been to the Vatican and have seen its majesty, and have been in awe of all the Popes throughout my life. Pope John Paul was fabulous but I think Pope Frances has brought a very unique, modern, and approachable atmosphere to the papacy. He is the single most influential man in the world and yet still is so incredibly humble. That is something we never see in our political representatives, from the president on down.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I love to go to the movies. My late sister and I would walk four blocks to the movies when we were children, pay 50 cents for a triple feature, e.g, West Side Story, which we saw four times, since it is a story that I can relate to. I also love the zoo and the Riverquarium. I love animals, especially in their own habitat. I am an amateur electronics hobbyist. I love putting gadgets to work. I was a substitute teacher one day at St Teresa’s Catholic School and brought my homemade polygraph machine in. The fifth graders loved it. We tested all the students in the class and that brought out a lot of howling and laughter. I also like mentoring at- risk youth. I don’t help all of them. But I’ve had some really great success stories.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. Going into the restaurant business. I lost a lot of money. I won’t go any further than that but to say that I never walked away from my debts. I took my medicine and paid everyone I owed. A man’s credit reflects his character. It takes a life time to build a reputation and only one day to destroy it. I think about that everyday.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Improving the lives of people whose lives have been turned upside down by injustice. I have the ability to take on the eight hundred pound gorilla who would stomp the life out of person if allowed, or give simple advice to someone who needs direction with a business matter.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. The stress of having someone’s future in my hands and then transferring that responsibility to 12 jurors who often don’t want to be there. I grieve for weeks over losses in front of juries. I rethink the case over and over in my head and try to figure out why the jury decided the way they did.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Parris Island, SC. Instructor: USMC

Q. What would be your dream job if you had to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. Executive Chef. I love to watch folks eat my food. I was going to atttend culinary school if I didn’t get into law school. I looked at virtually every top school in the country.

Q. Finish this thought; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…

A. My wife says I can never retire, I would drive her crazy.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Empathy. If you can’t walk a mile in another man’s shoes, you don’t have what it takes. Integrity is first though. But you asked for one trait.

Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I think it has already started. Mayor Hubbard and the commissioners, both city and county, are working hard to build a strong, modern infrastucture. Before businesses will be tempted to return to the city, we must have a modern infrastucture, including the school system. We have made great strides in improving our school system. We are like the rest of the country and I think it will take time. But from what I see the housing market is improving, Phoebe is constantly expanding, and Miller, MCLB, and P&G are going strong. Finally, I think the expansion of Albany Technical College is the key to our success. If we can produce a highly trained work force, we will rebuild the city, no doubt.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. The Doors, Talking Heads, Salsa, Symphony, Frank Sinatra

Q .What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. A better school system, and continuous expansion and improvement of our three colleges. Contemporaneous with that, we will see more businesses move in and the unemployment rate go down. If folks are compelled to work for government benefits, improvement will occur at a much faster pace.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?

A. I’ve been all over the world but the best one was when I was a child in NJ. My father, like other businessmen in that area, would close his business for one month during the summer and we would move into our beach bungalow in Sea Side Heights. ” We called it “going down the shore”. When we got there, the white sheets that had been covering the furniture all winter came off, and we ran down to the beach to dig for clams and throw the net out to catch sardines. The beach at that time was desolate. Big sand dunes were everywhere the eye could see. Later, down the road a few miles,we worked at the carnival type concession stands my father owned on the board walk. It was simple and brought our extended family together. We had three families who would go. So, I had a lot of cousins to play with. Plus the women in the house were always cooking. I will never forget my grandmother’s Calzones and the big pasta dinners replete with octopus, squid and anything else that was edible from the ocean. No TV, just family, good food, and sun.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Computerized research. Research that literally took eight hours before has been cut to one-tenth that time. Also, on-line filing of pleadings. That makes for instantaneous filings without having to go down to the court house. It allows for state wide practice.