RIDGWAY — St. Marys native and Elk County District Attorney Tom Coppolo has spent a large portion of his life in a courtroom, and can even recall memories made at the Elk County Courthouse at a young age. For Coppolo, practicing law has been “a bit of a family affair.”
Coppolo noted that his father, Alvin Coppolo, practiced law in Elk County for over 50 years, starting in 1949, and also served as DA of Elk County. Hanging on the wall of Coppolo’s office is a photo of his father along with a portion of a speech his father gave in 1953 while campaigning for DA. His sister, Rita Coppolo Ordiway, also practiced law in Elk County, and also spent time serving as the assistant DA.
“When I was young, I’d come to the courthouse with my dad and help him do title searches,” he said. He recalled his father teaching him how to look through the “massive” books, which he would get out and put away for his dad. “He showed me how things worked, and I got to meet everyone. That was my introduction to the Elk County Courthouse.”
Coppolo, a lawyer of 30 years and former Elk County assistant DA, became the District Attorney in Elk County on Oct. 10, 2019, when the Hon. Shawn T. McMahon became President Judge of Elk and Cameron counties.
The fact that Coppolo will be running for election again in 2021 causes him to recall 20 years ago, when he first ran for DA. While he lost that election by 31 votes, he now realizes that it was not the right time then for him to be DA.
“In 2001, I had three small children; if I had been elected at that point in time, I would not have been able to spend as much time with my children. There are only so many hours in a day, and something would have had to be sacrificed. As it is, the timing is now perfect for me as my youngest daughter is now in college.”
Coppolo described the last nine-plus months of the COVID-19 pandemic to be very challenging.
“Due to safety precautions, things had to change. We have not had a jury trial since March 2020, and we are utilizing advanced telecommunications technology to keep cases moving along while limiting social contact. We are being particularly mindful to keep cases moving for defendants who are incarcerated. Everyone has had to deal with change since March, and we at the courthouse are no different.”
It has been remarkable, said Coppolo, to watch the courthouse staff learn new ways to do things in a socially-distanced environment.
“Everyone has been amazing in their willingness to adapt and work together to achieve the common goal of minimizing the disruption caused by COVID,” he said.
Coppolo added that there were several new “tools” that have been discovered during the pandemic that he hopes might stick around when things return to normal.
Coppolo loves working with his staff and local law enforcement, and the work that comes along with being Elk County DA.
“Right now, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be in life.”
With the job comes always being on call, said Coppolo, and it’s difficult not to take the work home. In fact, during COVID, he said he has created a second office in his basement. Thanks to the computer and his network, he is able to work at any time, which makes taking work home a little more enjoyable.
Aside from his job, Coppolo said his favorite things to do are spend time with friends and family, and travel new places with his wife.
“I stopped trying to collect things — I try to collect memories,” he said. “I consider myself very fortunate.”