PITTSBURGH – PITTSBURGH (AP) — Judge Gerard Alonge isn't that different from other guys who can't get a date. The trouble, prosecutors say, is that the objects of his affection are the women in his courtroom, and he isn't getting the message that his crushes aren't interested.
Though Alonge's attorney portrays him as an awkward but harmless would-be Romeo, that might not matter to the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline, which heard the judge's case in Harrisburg on Monday after the targets of his affection — six women, including five attorneys — complained.
"He's socially inept and challenged with women, yeah," defense attorney Philip Friedman said of the 51-year-old Alonge, who has never been married and hasn't dated in years. "He's not the only one out there; he just happens to be a judge."
Alonge has served for four years in a district court outside Erie, in northwestern Pennsylvania, and could lose his $81,000-a-year job if the discipline court removes him from office.
Six women mostly in their late 20s and early 30s testified Monday that Alonge called them repeatedly, sometimes showing up unannounced at their homes or offices, Friedman said. Among them was a woman who appeared before the judge on an underage drinking citation at age 17 and said he contacted her much later.
Jillian Nolan, 30, now an attorney in Pittsburgh, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she refused to answer Alonge's calls when she clerked for Erie County Judge Shad Connelly.
"There was a reason I didn't take any of those phone calls: because I had heard all the other women's stories," Nolan said.
Assistant public defender Julia Bagnoni testified that Alonge pulled up behind her car in her driveway, unannounced and uninvited, at 7 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2007. She told the AP that she was frightened because her toddler was with her, and that Alonge left only after she told him at least 20 times that she had to go.
Bagnoni, 35, said she had met Alonge about a month earlier at a swearing-in ceremony for new attorneys and that he called her repeatedly until the Erie Times-News published a story in April 2008 about complaints she and other women had made.
"That was the end of his phone calls that I noticed on my caller ID," Bagnoni said. "That's what did it for me."
Bagnoni's home doubles as her office, Friedman said, but he couldn't explain why Alonge would show up at 7 p.m.
Erin Connelly — an assistant county prosecutor and daughter of Nolan's former boss — testified that Alonge called repeatedly to ask her to lunch and told her to call him "Jerry." She refused and had her father contact the district attorney.
Hallie DeMarco, the now-21-year-old woman who was cited for underage drinking, testified that Alonge offered her a secretarial job in March 2008, told her he was "struck" by her beauty and twice showed up at a club where she worked, the Times-News reported.
Alonge declined to comment to the AP. His attorney doesn't dispute the women's testimony, only their perceptions of what happened.
Friedman acknowledged that some contacts were "an attempt, I think, to date. Some of them, it was just an attempt to be friendly." But the judge just "doesn't pick up on social cues," he said.
The judge's conduct was unprofessional but does not rise to the level of discipline, Friedman said.
"He never touched anyone, he never threatened anyone; he was always polite with them — but he was annoying to them," Friedman acknowledged.
Nolan isn't buying Friedman's defense.
"His whole argument is based on the fact that this Judge Alonge is socially inept, but I don't believe that for a second," Nolan said. She added that she believes he didn't show up at her home only because her number was unlisted.
Friedman and a prosecutor from the state Judicial Conduct Board, which brought the charge, must now submit written arguments. If the court rules in a few weeks that Alonge brought disrepute to his office, it will hold another hearing to determine punishment ranging from a reprimand to removal from the bench.
Alonge has been planning to run for a second six-year term in November 2011.