It looked like one of those cases that so often passes unnoticed through the D. C. Superior Court. A defendant hurriedly enters a guilty plea and end the matter.
But this time it was different. Judge Tim Murphy sentenced the defendant, Joseph J. Urciolo, 57, the father of six children, a lawyer and a longtime real estate manager, to a weekend in jail.
Urciolo was described as being stunned at the sentence.
He had pleaded guilty to four violations of the city's fire safety regulations in connection wit an apartment house he owns in the 300 block of F Street NW.
In court papers, the judge said the sentence was intended not only to punish Urciolo but to deter others "who callously neglect the safety of tenants on their property."
Urciolo was ordered to report to jail at 6 p. m. on March 3 - two days after he was sentenced.
There followed an extraordinary rush of legal maneuvers that ended with the D. C. Court of Appeals staying the execution of Urciolo's sentence - 45 minutes before he was due to check in at the D. C. jail.
First, Urciolo asked Judge Murphy to reduce the sentence and suggested that he do some kind of community service - like work as a volunteer fireman - rather than go to jail.
Then, Urciolo asked for permission to withdraw his guilty plea, because it was involuntary. Urciolo argued that neither he, nor the attorney who represented him at the time, realized that a guilty plea meant Urciolo waived his right to an appeal.
While Urciolo admitted he had been a member of the District of Columbia Bar since 1950, he argued that he had never practiced criminal law. He "vigorously asserts," he is innocent f the charges, Urciolo said in court papers.
In a strongly worded order, Judge Murphy denied Urciolo's requests and called them "a last-minute attempt to avoid the consequences of his irresponsibility."
Murphy said, however, that Urciolo, who said he is under treatment for the after effects of a heart attack suffered in 1974, could serve his time in the jail infirmary or in a locked hospital ward.
With that, Urciolo's current attorney, john H. Treanor Jr., went down the street to the appellate court and won postponement. But, Treanor says, the final twist to story is yet to come.
His client, Treanor said, now want to go jail - preferably at 6 p. m. Friday - to avoid any appearance that he is trying to "wiggle out" of his responsibility. So, Treanor said, on Monday, he will ask to withdraw the stay granted by the appellate court.
Urciolo pleaded guilty to four firesafety violations discovered during an inspection last December. According to court records, the violations were failure to post fire regulations, use of improper trash receptacles and a charge that the building's fire alarm system was out of order.
The fourth, and "particularly serious" violation, Murphy said, was Urciolo's failure to replace steps that were missing from the building's fire escape between the second and third floors.
The violations still existed in late December, Murphy said, when a fire broke out in the the building's storage room. The judges noted that two policemen suffered minor injuries when they helped evacuate residents from the apartment house.
After the fire, Urciolo posted imprper signs about fire regulations, moved the trash cans and sought to repair the fire alarm system, Murphy said, but did not repair the fire escape because "(in hsi (Urciolo's) own words no workman would do such a small job."
. . . Only a person with a serious insensitivity to human safety could view a fire escape with missing steps and not visulaize the terror and tragedy facing persons seeking to escape in the nighttime. A weekend in Jail should remind the defendant that people must come first where firesafety concerned," Murphy said in his order.