Traditionally, juvenile courts have protected children from lasting stigma and emotional trauma through aggressive secrecy, in contrast to their adult counterparts. But the anonymity provided by the juvenile system is a direct impediment to journalists and others charged with delivering information to the public. But a powerful new tool, published this month by the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), provides a state-by-state breakdown of access to juvenile courts. The report, funded by a grant from the McCormick Foundation, appears in the Spring 2012 issue of RCFP’s quarterly publication, The News Media & The Law. Each state is profiled in detail, describing which juvenile proceedings and records are available to the public and which require special permission.
The nation’s juvenile and family courts need to lower walls that have blocked the sharing of data that is key for to marshaling a child through state agencies and the justice system, according to a gathering of court experts Thursday. If the courts fail, a child’s mental, physical and emotional well-being could be damaged, according to a series of measures and recommendations put forth by the panel to guide judges and courts in handling youth in the system. “The days of sitting in your office creating your own [data] system without input from others – those days are gone,” said Sandra Moore, head of Pennsylvania’s Office of Children and Families in the Court. “We just can’t function that way anymore…The court system needs to be able to talk to the child welfare system.”
Courts Have Had Some Success
Over the years, judges and the courts have had success pushing forward the conversation on the safety of state wards and foster children, as well as dealing with matters like visitation and permanent placement, the panelists said. “The problem is, with well-being, frankly we weren’t sure how effective the courts would be,” said Gene Flango, executive director at the National Center for State Courts.
Sitting behind her strikingly barren desk, with the bright, mid-winter sunlight breaking through the trees and streaming through her office windows, Martha Grace Duncan, a professor at the Emory University School of Law, in Atlanta recounts the case of nine-year-old Cameron Kocher. As she speaks her small, compact frame remains nearly motionless, betraying no emotion. But her eyes tell the story, portraying the internal mix-up of sadness, passion and nerdy intensity that she feels about the topic. Duncan may not wear her heart on her sleeve, but if you pay attention it’s not hard to find. In March 1989, on a cold, snowy day in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, Kocher fatally shot a seven-year-old playmate with a high-powered hunting rifle.
Longtime Georgia Juvenile Court Judge Peggy H. Walker was elected to the Executive Committee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) earlier this week at their 74th national conference in New York City. Spanning the next five years, Judge Walker will serve as NCJFCJ secretary, treasurer, president-elect, president and immediate past-president, respectively.
Founded in 1937, the Reno-based NCJFCJ is the nation’s longest running judicial membership committee with a roster of nearly 2,000 judges and related professionals. The council aims to provide judges, courts and related agencies with the necessary knowledge and skills to improve the lives of families and children affected by the juvenile justice system and domestic violence. “The common thread among the NCJFCJ leadership is hard work and the courage to overcome adversity as we work to improve the lives of children and families,” said the newly elected Judge Walker.
Associate Judge Jackson sat down with Martha Turner of the Juvenile Justice Fund recently to talk about CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children), adoption and the rehabilitative efforts of the court. Jackson is a graduate of Georgia State University’s Law School. He has been on the bench since June, 2009. Judge Jackson, you are a native Atlantan, and you’ve been in the courts here for many years –
In that time, in 20 years, do you think the legal system has gotten better or worse? “In some ways it’s gotten better, and in some ways it’s gotten worse.
When the American Bar Association meets in Atlanta the hot topics will include restorative justice and alternatives to detention for kids. The Midyear meeting runs February 9 – 14 at the Marriott Marquis. One event takes place at Frank McClarin High School in College Park, where judges and lawyers will talk to 300 high school students about fair and impartial courts. They’ll use the assault charge against MTV’s Teen Mom to launch the discussion. Sharon Hill of Georgia Appleseed and Judge Steve Teske from Clayton County Juvenile Court will talk about new initiatives to keep kids in school and out of court. The ABA will consider two resolutions related to at-risk kids.
We moved to Clayton County, GA in 1974. I was 14 years old. I had lived in nine different cities from California to New York, and back to our southern roots when my father was transferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. My childhood took me many places. I met a lot of kids of all physical, emotional, spiritual, and social shapes and sizes. Benjamin Disraeli once said that “Travel teaches toleration.” In hindsight I must agree with the former British Prime Minister. My travels have introduced me to different religious beliefs, political and social thoughts, and people of all colors and cultural backgrounds. My childhood friends were white, black, red, yellow, and brown. They were Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Christian of all denominations, atheist, and agnostic. They came from families of varying political persuasions from conservative to liberal, from Republican to Democrat to Independent, and with economic tastes from capitalism to socialism in varying degrees.
My many childhood friends from coast to coast in a thirteen year time span expanded my understanding of diversity and taught me to be tolerant of those with different cultures and beliefs. However, toleration, I have learned, is a double edge sword. In the words of Edmund Burke, “Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.” The determinative question when the tolerant sword is cutting is “Which side of the sword is doing the cutting?” Is it the cutting edge that promotes the acceptance of people regardless of their differing beliefs or the edge that promotes the acquiescence of conduct hurtful toward others? The former is good for al l, the latter is good for none. This concept of toleration raises an interesting paradox when applied to the arrest of kids on school campuses. I think we can all agree that there should be no toleration of student disruption of any kind. I helped to raise three children. They are now adults and doing quite well. All my kids attended public schools.
A plan to relocate Juvenile Court operations in Cobb County to the Superior Courthouse is not likely to happen any time soon. According to the Marietta Daily Journal, the county doesn’t have the $2.2 million needed to make the move. Juvenile Court is currently located in a renovated warehouse. It was scheduled to move to the 5th and 6th floors of the old courthouse building in Marietta next year. The space will be available once construction is finished on the new Courthouse building. The Board of Commissioners will consider a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) to fund the juvenile court move, along with other projects. As MDJonline.com reports, they could decide next week whether to put it to the voters in March. Courthouse construction has been a hot issue for months in Cobb. Last summer, a watchdog group called Jobs for Georgians called on the county to do background and security checks on 760 construction workers at the new court site. As a result, the AJC reports two illegal immigrants were arrested, along with eight other workers who had outstanding warrants.
If anyone needs proof that emotions run high in juvenile court, take a look at the video (below) from Augusta, released by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department. A fight erupted inside the courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, when an officer tried to put handcuffs on a teenage boy. The teen resisted and tried to leave. The boy’s grandmother, identified as Dora Ward, rushed up and grabbed the officer around the neck. According to an account in the August Chronicle, the officer was getting choked. Another officer tackled the woman and pushed her to the floor. Ward and her grandson were both arrested for Obstruction of an Officer. What made this situation particularly tense: Ward is the mother of Justin Elmore, who was shot and killed by two Richmond County deputies in 2008, after he tried to drive away from a traffic stop.
Watch the incident on surveillance video, released Friday.