Municipal Court Chief Judge Frank Caprio amassed a huge following through the television show “Caught in Providence.” Short video clips uploaded on social media platforms, which showed the heartwarming and sometimes funny interactions that he had in court, made him and the show popular not only with the locals, but with the global audience as well. The way the judge handled each case with the right amount of toughness tempered with compassion made everyone believe that the courtroom wasn’t as scary as it seemed. Recently, an announcement was made that the judge had reached retirement age, and that he’d requested that his services be retained as Chief Judge Emeritus without pay in the city of Providence. A few issues came out regarding the production of the show, its authorization, and who profited from it.
Get to know Judge Frank Caprio
People who’ve got to know the Municipal Court Chief Judge Caprio whether in person or just by watching him on TV, surmised that his upbringing and family background had a significant impact on how he carried himself in and outside of court.
Growing up years and family
Francesco Caprio was born on 24 November 1936, in the small town of Providence, Rhode Island, the second son of American-Italian parents Antonio and Filomena Caprio, whose families emigrated from the towns of Teano and Naples in Italy, respectively in 1912. He and his two brothers, Antonio Jr. and Joseph W., were raised from humble beginnings, which were rooted in hard work, getting an education, and utmost respect for other people in their community in Federal Hill. His father was an industrious vendor, selling fruits and delivering milk to put enough money on the table, while his stay-at-home mother made sure that everything was in proper order for the family. To help with the finances, the young Frank wasn’t shy of doing odd jobs such as delivering newspapers, washing dishes, cleaning and shining shoes, and even working with his father in delivering milk. He knew the value of hard work would bring positive results for everyone at home.
Education and military service
For his elementary education, Frank went to a public school in Providence., then attended Providence Central High School where he was a member of the All-State wrestling team and won a state title in 1953. A year after he matriculated, he joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard from 1954 through 1962 and served in the 876th Combat Engineer Battalion. He was stationed in a few army bases including Camp Varnum and Fort Indiantown Gap, and while serving, he also graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Providence College in 1958. To pay for his tuition fees, he worked three jobs as he couldn’t rely on his parents because their income was just enough for food and to pay for utilities.
The judge was already a proficient multi-tasker when he was just in his 20s. He started a family with a woman named Joyce, and at that time worked as a teacher at Hope High School on the east side of Providence. Frank’s plate was quite full during those years, especially when he pursued a law degree by taking on night courses at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts. His determination and hard work led him to graduate in 1965; later, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law in 1991 by Suffolk University, and in 2008 by Providence College.
Judge Caprio is considered a hero by many. His hero was his father. #motivationmonday
Posted by Caught In Providence on Monday, April 9, 2018
His career in public service was guided by his father’s reminder
Frank started his legal career in 1965, assisting the local community in his beloved Providence for many years. He became a city councilor and established the Caprio Law Firm, which he later shared with his two sons, Frank Jr., and David. It was in 1985 that he started to serve as the city’s Municipal Court Judge, and was reappointed to the position several times by the Mayor and the City Council, as he took his role seriously, and became one of the most respected judges in the commumity. He often reminded himself of what his late father wrote in one of his prized possessions, an autograph book that he had during his last year in primary school. His father’s message was written quite formally as if it was a legal document: ‘The street is wide, the road is long and very bumpy, and very tough going, but I know you will proceed with honor, signed Antonio Caprio Sr.’
“Caught in Providence,” the reality TV series that started it all
Viewers were stunned by the kind of atmosphere a municipal courtroom was depicted in a TV show called “Caught in Providence.” Initially, everyone thought it was a scripted series, only to find out that it was the real thing.
The Premise and Origins of “Caught in Providence”
The TV show presented an inside look at courtroom proceedings with a real judge, real defendants, real plaintiffs, and real lawyers along with witnesses, police officers and an audience. It featured the justice system of the Providence Municipal Court in Rhode Island with Judge Frank Caprio as the central figure in the proceedings. The cases that were brought to court varied from simple traffic violations to more serious legal complaints.
“Caught in Providence” aired for more than two decades, starting on the local PEG-TV, which was short for Public Educational and Government Access Television. Later on, when it started to gain interest from the public, it was the ABC-affiliated local station WLNE-TV that initially included the show in their Saturday late-night programming. However, for some reason, it took an hiatus, and only returned to the small screen in 2015. Due to some video clips that went viral and were talked about on several social media platforms, the show was placed into national syndication in September 2018. Its uniqueness and the undeniable charm of Judge Caprio encouraged the TV station to renew it each year, produced by the judge’s brother, Joseph Caprio.
— Caught In Providence (@caughtinprov) December 21, 2017
Top three of the most popular videos in “Caught in Providence”
As a whole, it would be difficult to identify the most popular episode from a reality TV show that aired for more than 20 years, especially since it started on PEG-TV. However, in today’s viewing landscape, one way to measure its popularity was to delve into its official YouTube Channel, and look for the video clip that gained the most number of views. Here are the top five:
17 million views – “I’m Not Going to Waste Your Time, I’m Guilty”
At the beginning of the video that was uploaded in January 2020, an old woman named Joanna said something that made everyone laugh including the judge and the bailiff. Apparently, she told Judge Caprio that she wasn’t interested in watching her traffic violations that were caught on video because she didn’t want to waste his time, and eagerly confessed that she was guilty. Nevertheless, the judge said that they would watch them since he wanted to help her. After watching and scrutinizing the details of her ‘running the red light’ violations, two of them were dismissed, and for the few remaining tickets, the judge charged her $170. She didn’t have enough money to pay for it at that time, so she was given a month to do that. It was later reduced to $85 after he further assessed the violation and gave her a break with those that were under three tenths of a second. The banter between her and the judge was hilarious, especially when she told him that he must be a smart guy, and that was probably the reason he was up there, and Judge Caprio responded, ‘No. I just got lucky.’
16 million views – “The Power of a Smile”
A young college girl, Carrie, was charged with illegal parking during an emergency. Judge Caprio let her tell him what happened that day, but she told him a not-so-believable tale about having heard that it was going to snow, and she was in a rush that led her to park her car illegally. Carrie often used the word honestly, and the judge could recognize the tell-tale signs of someone who was just concocting an excuse. He even told her that the more she used the word ‘honestly,’ the more suspicious he got. The judge found her quite funny and gave her a second chance, so he didn’t charge her anymore. He explained in the confessional interview later on that after taking on thousands of cases over the years, he already knew just by the shaky eyes and the little details she shared that she was lying, but he still ‘believed’ her. He said, ‘One thing you can’t fake is a smile and she had a genuine one…honestly.’ The judge knew that the young girl already paid a hefty amount to the towing services, and that was probably enough for her to learn her lesson. Most of the comments posted in the video agreed that the judge was like a father, and that the world needed more like him.
15 million views – “Five Days in Jail”
In November 2019, a young mother with five kids was charged with a ticket for driving one mile past the limit on the road. She brought all her children, and Judge Caprio immediately asked for the most talkative one from her brood, who was five-year-old Alex. The judge had a beautiful interaction with Alex, and was kind of introducing him to his job. He asked the little kid if his mother was guilty and he denied it. However, in the next few questions, which he clearly didn’t understand, he kept replying yes. For instance, Alex was asked if his mother should pay money and he agreed after hearing the word, ‘money.’ When the judge asked if she should stay in jail, he agreed and said, ‘Five days in jail.’ Everyone was laughing in court, and in the end, Judge Caprio made the little kid repeat his words, ‘This case is dismissed’ along with banging the gavel. The judge told the young mother that he could relate to her situation because he also had five children, and then proceeded to officially dismiss the case of her driving a mile over the limit.
Judge Caprio’s plans for retirement and issues surrounding it
As Judge Frank Caprio got older, some people questioned if his star was fading, as there were rumors that some important people in Providence wanted him out of the limelight and preferred a more diverse bench in the judicial department.
Retirement and appointment as Chief Judge Emeritus
In one of the local news sites in Providence, it was reported on 13 January 2023 that Judge Frank Caprio would be retiring soon, after being in public service for 40 years. His brother confirmed that the TV show, “Caught in Providence” would cease filming as well. However, the respected judge was also reported to have asked the City Council to appoint him as Chief Judge Emeritus without salary, just a voluntary position – he wanted to continue serving the people of Providence. The City Council President Rachel Miller confirmed this, and said that she was quite supportive of his bid for the position.
There were confusing reports about whether Judge Caprio’s request was granted or not. One of his sons shared that an agreement was already reached with the council, but the City Council President Miller corrected that assumption. She said that while she talked with the judge about exploring possibilities and different options, the decision would still depend on the council as a whole. Some members of the council were hesitant in giving their support to the idea.
The judge was hurt
The sketchy details surrounding his retirement and the inquiry about profiting from the TV show had many people talking about Judge Frank Caprio’s reputation. In an interview with a local NBC reporter, he said that he was hurt, sharing that he had a talk with the City Council president about another term as Municipal Court Judge, but if ever he was granted an appointment again, he would most likely just serve for a couple of years, as he was bound for retirement. He was keenly aware of the malicious issues going around, and knew that when someone was being removed from a position, there was a reason for it. He reiterated that he never made a single dime from “Caught in Providence.” He said, ‘My record is unblemished. I think it’s an attempt to blemish my record. Who’s doing that? I have no idea.’
Most people in Providence echoed what a former Rhode Island senator, J. Clement “Bud” Cicilline, wrote in an article about what happened to the beloved judge and friend. The former senator said, ‘Over the years, Frank has served his community and the state with incredible compassion, generosity, and integrity.’ When he heard that the judge was hurt, he was personally hurt as well. He asked that the City Council be kinder and show sensitivity in handling this ‘forced retirement’, as it affected Judge Caprio personally and tarnished the impeccable reputation that was built over the years.
Appointed Chief Judge Emeritus
By the end of January, the City Council announced that Providence gained a new Municipal Court Judge, as Associate Judge John Lombardi was appointed to the position after they’d promoted Judge Caprio as Chief Judge Emeritus. A resolution was also passed by the Council naming the Municipal Court in honor of him. It wasn’t really clear what Judge Frank Caprio’s role in the judicial department was after the changes were made. At the time he lobbied for the Chief Judge Emeritus position, he wished to still be included in the court rotation, as he wanted to handle cases just as when he was still the Municipal Court Judge.
Authorization for filming and ethics on earnings
In light of the retirement news, there were questions sent to the city’s legal department by Sean Bouchard, the current Chief of Staff of the City Council, asking if there had been some sort of deal, agreement, or authorization between the producers of the reality TV show, “Caught in Providence,” and the city officials when it started filming. He wanted them to review if there was any conflict of interest with the local, state, or judicial regulations on the TV production with its connection to Judge Caprio. In 2015, there was already an inquiry made about the ethical implications of such production when it came to earnings and it was ruled that as long as the judge himself wouldn’t earn a penny from it, then it was okay that his brother profited from it as he was the producer of the TV show.
The judge’s son was also an investor in the show, and they were open to any dialogue about revenue sharing or any payment for filming it. He said, ‘I don’t know what the thought is, but they’ve never asked. No one’s ever asked.’ Two weeks after the inquiry was submitted, the city solicitor said that there wasn’t any type of agreement between the TV show and the city but didn’t expound on it. He also said that while the 2015 ethics review was correct that there might be some relevant changes over the years to some of the facts surrounding the issue, it was kind of a moot point already, since the judge had retired and his brother said that filming the court proceedings would no longer continue.