When state officials determined in March that Jamestown required two full-time city court judges, George Panebianco was no doubt the first choice to join current full-time city court Judge John LaMancuso.
Panebianco, though a part-time judge for 10 years, was admittedly "agonized" by the prospect of working full-time, torn between the bonds he had created with his city court colleagues and his personal loyalty to Lewis & Lewis, PC, the law firm that he had poured his heart and soul into for 20 years.
"I loved every part of (city court)," Panebianco said. "Judge LaMancuso, Lisa Meacham (chief clerk) and their staff do an incredible job over there. However, I am committed to my firm and I am committed to my clients."
Indeed, Panebianco's decision to practice law full-time is hardly surprising considering his passion for helping others, namely injured workers trying to get back on their feet.
"When I was in the seventh grade, I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to help people," he said.
"It ultimately came down to a choice. Although I liked both jobs, I wanted to pick the place where I thought I would have the most direct impact and be the most helpful to our community."
Panebianco is not just a member of Lewis & Lewis, PC, but the president of the company and its five regional offices.
"We represent more injured workers than anyone in Western New York ... and we're expanding," Panebianco said. "The workers of our community ... they get hurt and they don't know where to go. They come into my office in despair ... and what I'm able to do is educate them on the law, fight my way through the process ... and get them healthy and back to work."
As far as the city court is concerned, Panebianco agreed with the decision to add a second judge, citing the overwhelming caseload the court has to endure everyday.
"The court was just getting busier," he said. "We handled (cases from) drug and treatment courts, mental court and the veterans court ... as well as separate parts for domestic violence and DWIs. Judge LaMancuso handles almost 40 percent of all the felonies in Chautauqua County - nobody knows about that. The state correctly added the second city court judge. You shouldn't have to wait three or four months to get your case adjudicated."
Panebianco primarily dealt with civil cases during his tenure as a part-time judge.
"My friends and colleagues over at city court have been exceptional ... and Judge LaMancuso has been an incredible mentor and very good friend," he said. "I think the new judge is going to be blessed with an extraordinarily qualified staff."