Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw told the Pachyderm Club on Monday that a drug court has been formed in Juvenile Court and will start its work in April.
He said progress is being made on the truancy issue and he is working with School Supt. Rick Smith for solutions.
However, he expressed frustration with city officials over the teen curfew matter, saying no progress has been made on that front.
He said, “You all know I feel passionate about getting kids off of the streets when they shouldn’t be out on the streets – and finding out why they’re there – so we can try to address the reasons for being out of school or out in the middle of the night.
”I am proud to report that Superintendent Rick Smith and I commissioned a diverse working group of key school and court personnel last fall to deconstruct the way we handle truant situations in the county from home, to school, to social worker, to court, and back . . . That group meets monthly and works between meetings and the process has opened eyes to hurdles and obstacles that have not been addressed in such a comprehensive manner. I believe that group will conclude their work this spring with a slate of findings and recommendations to me and to Superintendent Smith that will allow us to dramatically improve the time it takes to address truancy problems so we can be more responsive to getting the right resources in place to correct the problems quicker and save more kids.”
On the teen curfew, he said, “The mayor seems to think his Violence Reduction Initiative will handle the 14-year-olds who are out in the middle of the night being exposed to all sorts of hazards. I have yet to see it incorporated into any plan and have told Mayor Berke that I am concerned that we still have no plan to get kids off the streets in the middle of the night that is workable, feasible, and will allow us to protect them immediately and get to the real issues. Agreement on the need for a workable curfew ordinance and plan is not unanimous, but has nearly unanimous support from most involved, including the police officers on the streets, but more importantly from key leaders in the inner-city neighborhoods and communities that are affected the most.”
On the Violence Reduction Initiative, he said, "I have heard the arguments for and against. I have read David Kennedy’s book, Don’t Shoot. Will it work? I don’t know. But I do know that we have to do something and this plan is doing something. So, I hope it works and believe it has merit. I have represented, known, and had relationships with enough key experienced gang members to know that they are smart, self-serving people. I believe they will adopt the principles of the program if they truly deem it in their best interests. The program will have to back up the talk and I hope it does."
Judge Philyaw said “One of the things I love about my job as Juvenile Court Judge of Hamilton County is that it gives me a large platform that I can use to champion things that positively affect kids’ lives. I have spoken directly to students at schools, public and private, all over the county as well as at other places and events. I have addressed at least four Kiwanis clubs, whose mission is to improve the lives of children and families, and many other civic groups, churches, and organizations to talk about issues that are relevant and important. I speak to the whole senior class at one high school later this month and hope to have the words of encouragement and inspiration to help them as they approach the end of their high school years.”
He said he has been accused, in a friendly way, about being passionate about his work. “When I finished speaking to a group of adults in Hixson, a man stood up, pointed a finger directly at me, and said in a loud voice ‘That man is passionate about this stuff!’ Well, I was and am guilty, but I have information that I will try to deliver to you today without being too emotionally connected. “
“I love my job and am passionate about it because I believe strongly in what I’m doing and in doing it to the very best of my ability. As judge, I hear sometimes simple and sometimes very difficult matters. Beyond my responsibility to come to the best legal conclusion I can and apply the facts of each individual matter to those legal conclusions properly, I take the responsibility of letting each litigant put on their case and have their day in court seriously. Not everybody will win their case or get what they desire, but as long as they feel like they had an opportunity to present their case, and it was heard without partiality, then the system works, and though maybe not happy, litigants can feel good about our legal system.”
He said, “I love my job and am passionate about it because of the people I have around me and the chance I have to direct a staff of over 100 professionals whose life work is to improve the lives of children.” He talked about how his has managed large numbers of people before, but never for such an important purpose.
“I love my job and am passionate about it because of the connection and partnership with, and help we enjoy from outside agencies, schools, foundations, mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, churches, individuals, clubs, non-profits, court-appointed volunteers, and others who all work to improve the lives of children and youth.”
“And I love my job and am passionate about it because we have a County Commission and county mayor who entrusts me and my administration with managing a combined total budget of almost $7 million, which we do and do well while treating each part judiciously while looking toward our mission.”
“We turned money back in to the county the last fiscal year and have proposed a no-growth budget for the upcoming year. Everything we do, we do within our means and within our objectives and mission to:
"Provide for the care, protection, and wholesome moral, mental, and physical development of children coming within the court’s provisions;
"Consistent with the protection of the public interest, to remove from children committing delinquent acts the taint of criminality and the consequences of criminal behavior and to substitute a program of treatment, training, and rehabilitation whenever possible;
"To achieve these things in a family environment whenever possible, separating the child from his or her parents only when necessary for the child’s welfare or in the interest of public safety;
"All while providing a simple judicial procedure through which these things are done and enforced and in which the parties are assured a fair hearing and their constitutional and other legal rights are recognized and enforced.”
“To help keep me grounded and well-informed, I am glad to report that the Juvenile Court Commission has appointed and the County Commission on Oct. 16 passed a resolution approving nine new commissioners to serve three year terms. The returning members are: Carl Willis of the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home; Chuck Baker of Bethel Bible Village; and Matthew Vandegriff of Brainerd Hills Baptist Church.
"The new members are: Phil Accord, long-time CEO of Chambliss Center for Children, who started his career at the Court and has been appointed by four governors to serve on the Tennessee Commission for Children and Youth; Pastor Kevin Adams, senior pastor of Olivet Baptist Church; Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First; Former Police Chief Bobby Dodd; Coach Lurone Jennings, the former the executive director of the Bethlehem Center and currently the administrator of the City’s Department of Youth and Family Development; Dr. Tom McCullough, a long-time and respected educator; Gloria Moore, wears many hats at HCDE, but spent many years stationed at Howard High School and is currently a supervisor who impacts all Hamilton County Schools; Dr. Michele Picket, a pediatrician who has experience treating teens in our detention unit, and who has established an urban faith-based pediatric practice that focuses on under-served children; and Lt. Shaun Shepherd of the sheriff’s office, who currently trains and oversees all of the SROs in the schools.
Judge Philyaw said, "As you well heard last week, we are moving the court into the less-paper world (not paperless, but less paper). Electronic orders are better in so many ways and reduces the time to entry. We have installed monitors and hardware to allow us to conduct video hearings when appropriate that will drastically reduce transport time and safety issues and will ultimately save the county and state tens of thousands of dollars annually.
"We have recruited, vetted, trained, and sworn in new Court-Appointed Special Advocates and Foster Care Review Board members who serve as the eyes and ears of the court and as extra layers of protection for the children who are in state custody. Last year, the FCRB served 1,450 hours and reviewed 688 Foster Care Cases. CASA served 855 hours and worked intensively on 61 cases. Eleven new CASA candidates are being trained right now.
"Our Volunteer Services office has cultivated good working relationships with 37 community worksites who mentor and supervise children an average of about 450 hours per month. You’ll never see a juvenile doing community service by picking up trash on the road. They work, but always in a place and with people that will benefit that child’s rehabilitation in a meaningful way. Crabtree Farms is a good example. Those folks get very little real benefit from the work probationers perform, but spend an inordinate amount of time teaching and mentoring. It’s amazing how many kids don’t realize pickles grow on a vine and are not created at Bi-Lo.
The judge said the Worksite of the Year Award went to Goodwill Industries, where “the kids not only work for a great cause, but are exposed to people like Patrick Hampton and Willie Richardson and to a wide variety of learning skills that are needed for retail business.”
He said “Hamilton County CASA celebrates its 30th Anniversary and we’ll be celebrating later this year!”
The judge reported that he has conducted attorney panel meetings to help him gather information, suggestions, and input. “We are fostering the working relationships we have with city, county, and community partners and stake holders.”
“We have upgraded booking equipment and have installed two computers in the classroom that will allow Mr. Weaver, our full-time teacher, to work with students who are detained to remain current on their respective school’s assignments and on-line requirements.”
“We have such dedicated and professional staff working in our detention unit that in addition to everything else they do every day to help teens and to keep them safe, every detention unit officers and court security officer submitted themselves to intensive training in the use of pepper spray deterrents, which included being sprayed themselves, and are now certified. Since implementation, we have had fewer dangerous incidences and have not had to employ the spray once.”
The judge said he recognizes that the child support laws are intimidating and added that resources for non-custodial parent obligors are scarce. He said that “with our help and encouragement, Legal Aid of East Tennessee took on a new mission to hold monthly Child-Support clinics at one of our courthouses to help meet that need.” He said the first month, the volunteer attorneys helped 22 people and one man was so overwhelmed by the help he received that he left the courthouse in tears.
Judge Philyaw said there are teenagers in Hamilton County who are addicted to prescription drugs, meth, heroin, and other drugs. He continued, “We have studied the studies. We have traveled to other counties. We have garnered the help and support of Hamilton County’s adult drug court, substance abuse treatment professionals, and other juvenile drug court experts. I am proud to say that our months of work have produced the first juvenile drug court in Hamilton County and it will start holding weekly hearings in April.”
“The drug court will intensively address serious specific needs of the truly addicted teens. The fiscal benefits of drug rehabilitation are not known at this point, but the beyond the money savings, the life-saving benefits are enormous.” He thanked those involved and said how proud he is to have this resource for drug-addicted teens.
“We also saw an opportunity to join 16 other jurisdictions in another way that will allow much more widespread positive interaction with the court. We traveled to other jurisdictions, our people have studied the studies. We pitched the idea to four key partners at Miller & Martin before Thanksgiving. They quickly responded that they’d sponsor a Youth Court and basically wanted to know how much to write the check for. I told them, ‘no, it’s not about the money, but what we need are attorneys willing to mentor the students and work on a regular basis in the court.’ They said they’d have to get back to me and within just a few days came back and signed on, with Randy Wilson leading the charge. Then, they recruited Blue Cross Blue Shield in-house attorneys to help. Two Mondays ago we trained school personnel who will identify students for application to the court. Last Monday, 26 attorneys were involved in two hours of Youth Court training at Miller & Martin. Statewide, the recidivism rate for youth court respondents is less than 7%, much better than our typical recidivism rates. This Court will reach 120 – 140 great students and non-traditional leaders from public and private schools on a regular basis and I couldn’t be prouder of this addition to the Court.”
He said, “while there are grant dollars out there and we will judiciously look at reasonable opportunities to capitalize on the right fits, my people have responded well to my charge to find ways to do all of these things with the things we can manage within our four walls and within our current resources to ensure longevity. Again, I couldn’t be prouder.”
He told a story about a brief, walking conversation one day, when a court staffer said, ‘”Judge, I like the way you don’t seem to have contracted “robe fever”.’ Seeing an opportunity to appreciate the sentiment without getting too serious, I didn’t miss a beat or a step and tried to say something funny. I do have robe fever, but I hope not the negative kind that that term sometimes denotes. I have a fever and am passionate about doing the very best I can every day to represent what that black robe means in the courtroom, in the schools, and in the community.”
Judge Philyaw thanked District Attorney Bill Cox for his commitment to the initiatives that Boyd Patterson is helping him with on a regular basis and thanked Boyd for his work on several of the key things going on at the Court. “Since the disbandment of the Gang Task Force, I have had the benefit of most of the work that had been done and appreciate so much the help, advice, and encouragement of Boyd Patterson and many others who worked closely with him on the Gang Task Force.”