Lawyers: Don’t Forget Your Story-Telling

CHICAGO -- Whether it’s a tool in your toolkit or an arrow in your quiver, story- telling will win motions, cases and verdicts for you, especially if you put the most positive spin on it and wrap your argument in a darn good story. That’s the advice that Matthew Fraidin and Faith Mullen gave to more than 600 people at the National Association of Counsel for Children’s 35th National Child Welfare, Juvenile, and Family Law Conference in Chicago recently. Fraidin and Mullen, law professors at Georgetown University Law Center and the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, respectively, bemoaned the fact that juvenile justice/child welfare law is steeped in stories of misery, even though there are a lot of good things happening. “These kids are trapped in a sad narrative, Professor Fraidin said. “They are viewed as fruit that doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Focus on the Infant while Understanding Teenage Parents

If you’ve worked with, defended, advocated for or made decisions about at-risk youth, you’ve surely run into the difficult problem of teenagers becoming parents themselves. As a juvenile judge in Florida, I remember becoming frustrated at the apparent immature, selfish, unrealistic and irresponsible behavior displayed by these young moms and dads in dealing with life’s most important task: raising a child. But, you know what? I often forgot about the baby. In my haste to modify probation and curfew to allow, in fact encourage, these young parents to accept an equal responsibility for their infant or toddler, I often ruled without considering the newborn’s needs.

Juveniles Convicted of Homicides: Will The U.S. Supreme Court Take the Next Logical Step?

WASHINGTON, D.C. --  “Why is life without parole categorically different? How about 50, 60, 70 years?  As close to death as possible? How are we to know where to draw those lines?”  Justice Antonin Scalia was first out of the box to fire questions at defendant’s attorney Bryan Stevenson. However, on the first day of Spring in the city of cherry blossoms, all eyes and ears within the U.S. Supreme Court were focused on Justice Anthony Kennedy. Would he repeat the message of hope for young people when he so eloquently wrote for the majority two years earlier in Graham v. Florida: “Life in prison without the possibility of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside prison walls, no chance for reconciliation with society, no hope.” (Before Graham, the Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons had ruled the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional.)

Relying upon scientific evidence that kids are different from adults because their brains hadn’t fully developed and thus lacked impulse control and judgment, the Graham decision held life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicides to be cruel and unusual punishment, thus unconstitutional.

A Tribute to the Powerful New York Judges Who Care About Kids

As New York families gather over Thanksgiving turkeys, and count their blessings and good fortune, they should include in their circle of gratitude three well-known New York judges. These judges have taken a firm position, and offered their help, to raise the age of criminal responsibility, thus keeping thousands of 16 and 17 year old misdemeanants in juvenile court with appropriate services for youth. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, and former criminal court judge Michael Corriero deserve that thanks. After all, last month we survived another Halloween night – you know, when adults act like kids and kids dress like adults. Just the thought of that should remind everyone how artificial and arbitrary the distinction between adult and child can be.

Sexually Exploited Girls in New York Find Safe Harbor

NEW YORK --There are advantages and difficulties, including legal barriers, to converting prostitution charges into an opportunity to provide services to girls on the street. That was the conclusion of a panel of experts assembled at the 74th annual conference of the National Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recently. “There is a conflict in our law,” suggested Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, administrative judge of the city’s family courts, “How can we criminally prosecute kids for prostitution when the law says that they can’t legally consent to having sex?” she asked. “Every child arrested is a sexually exploited child.”

The Safe Harbor bill enacted in April 2010 creates a rebuttable presumption that a minor arrested for prostitution in New York is a “trafficked” person, allowing a diversion from delinquency court to a children’s services program. But Judge Richardson-Mendelson pointed out the difficulties associated with the Safe Harbor Bill.

Program Offers Help for At-Risk Kids of Military Families

New York -- A decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken its toll on children whose parents are deployed, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health. The study, of more than 10,000, 8th, 10th and 12th-grade students, found that boys especially have been affected by the stress of a parent’s deployment. Researchers wrote that they are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior, experience low self esteem and suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. The study was conducted in Washington state, home to 60,000 active-duty service members. “It’s really time to focus on the children that are left behind,” said Sarah Reed, the lead author of the report, “Adolescent well-being in Washington state military families,” published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

Judge Irene Sullivan On Learning a Lesson in Restorative Justice From Teenagers

In mid-May I traveled from my home in Florida to Evanston Township High School, just north of Chicago, to meet with students, school social workers and law enforcement officials. My intention was to talk to them about my nine years of service as a juvenile judge and the stories of the kids in court I wrote about in my book, Raised by the Courts: One Judge’s Insight into Juvenile Justice. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Instead of talking I was listening. Instead of teaching I was learning.