With her swearing in on July 15, 2016, Judge Lori Serratelli joined the Family Law Division of Dauphin County as her main assignment with additional duties hearing Orphans Court matters and handling case management for civil litigation and back up/rotation in criminal and Domestic Relations contempt matters.
Family Law matters, Orphans court matters and civil litigation comprise a very large number of cases coming before the court each year.
Protection from Abuse matters commence by temporary (called ex-parte) petitions filed on a daily basis when the Court of Common Pleas is open. On the weekends and evenings, they are heard by Magisterial District Justices. Protective orders are issued when there is evidence that adults or children are being subjected to threat of harm such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, harassment, intimidation whereby they believe they are imminent danger of serious physical abuse. Parties who are related family members, spouse, intimate partners or former intimate partners may file seeking protection. Adults may file on behalf of their minor children.
The non-profit organization located in the Court called the Victim Witness Protection Program processes the petitions daily. Every Tuesday a full court session is held to determine whether a temporary order should be made final. Weapons can be seized from the abuser as part of an Order.
Judge Serratelli does a periodic rotation handling the temporary and final protection from abuse matters and has heard hundreds of these cases since joining the bench.
Her caseload also involves Custody matters including emergency petitions where there are allegations of imminent safety concerns. Judge Serratelli rotates with the two other Family Law judges on the court who hear these matters. Parents and grandparents or other third parties who have legal standing to file for custody often file these actions which can number up to ten to twenty in a week which are then scheduled quickly for hearings if a real emergency seems to exist. Custody cases requires a thorough analysis based on the custody statutes and often lengthy written opinions of which Judge Serratelli has published many since taking the bench.
Judge Serratelli also hears divorce appeals from the Divorce Master’s Recommendations and special relief matters.
Judge Serratelli hears matters involving adoption, guardianships for incapacitated persons and probate matters. The adoptions begin with a determination of whether the biological parents’ rights should be terminated, unless they voluntarily consent. If parental rights are terminated after a full hearing, then the case moves on to the adoption phase which is always one of the most joyous and rewarding hearings for Judge Serratelli.
Civil case management:
Civil cases, such as personal injury, breach of contract, medical malpractice, to name few involve usually a long process of discovery which depositions and interrogatories. However, before a case proceeds, there may be pre-trial motions or preliminary objections for the Judge to decide. In that case, Judge Serratelli will hear oral argument and make a decision, often involving written opinions, many of which have been published in the Dauphin County Reporter.
Criminal and Contempt matters:
On rotations, Judge Serratelli handles bench warrant matters, as well as support capias and contempt matters. These matters involve setting bail conditions and issuing sentences for those in contempt of court ordered support matters. The Judge has presided over Veterans Court which is a specialty, restorative court for Veterans involved in lower level criminal matters who need to address alcohol/drug/mental health issues.
Committee work and Special Assignments:
Judge Serratelli presides over Naturalization Court which will take place this year in early April and October 2017 which is the swearing in ceremony for new citizen. It is a very moving ceremony to see individuals from often a dozen different countries become US citizens.
Judge Serratelli serves on the Self-Help Committee which works on access to the courts for those who cannot afford legal counsel by creating forms which are easy to understand and use. She has worked on finding volunteers and supervising them to help the self-represented litigations fill out the forms.
Judge Serratelli has agreed to take on supervision of the Pro Bono Guardian Monitor Program begun by the late Judge Todd Hoover to oversee Guardians who are required to manage the incapacitated party’s finances and care. She recently moderated a Lunch and Learn program to encourage new volunteers from the Dauphin County Bar Association and ten new volunteers joined the program.
Judge Serratelli is working on forming a steering committee to bring Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program to Dauphin County. She herself served as a volunteer CASA in Cumberland County and serves on the PA CASA Board of Directors.
Judge Serratelli has volunteered her time judging the High School Mock Trial competition and regularly speaks to groups or on panels dedicated to empowering law students and new lawyers, especially women and underrepresented groups.
Judge Serratelli has officiated over a number of weddings which she has greatly enjoyed.
Judge Serratelli’s work on the court is a continuation of her work in her areas of concern and concentration throughout her 38 year career as an attorney as a family and employment law attorney. She brings her unique experience and listening skills to handle every matter that comes before her equitably and respectfully for the litigants and attorneys who come before her.