Judge Rob Philyaw
photo by Claire Henley Miller
Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw told members of the Brainerd Kiwanis Club on Friday that he was contacted by CNN to run Thursday’s hearing on the Ooltewah High rape case on national television.
Judge Philyaw said he declined CNN’s request. He said he believes it will be a short hearing, and he does not want it to turn into a “circus.”
The judge did not come to the club meeting to talk about the Ooltewah High rape case. But, in order to be transparent to the public in light of the ongoing scandal, the judge touched on the hearing he will preside over next Thursday morning.
Three Ooltewah High staff members will come before him on charges of failure to report child sexual abuse of four teammates on the OHS boys’ basketball team. They include Athletic Director and former boys' basketball coach Jess Nayadley, Coach Andre Montgomery and Assistant Coach Karl Williams.
Being that Judge Philyaw works in Juvenile Court, he noted that it is exceptional for him to try adults.
“The thing that hit the paper yesterday is a strange creature,” he said.
During the hearing, if the adults plead not guilty, then Judge Philyaw will bind the case over to the Grand Jury. But if they plead guilty, he can fine them up to $2,500, he said.
Judge Philyaw said Juvenile Court has an approximate budget of $7,000,000, making it a “big part of the county government.” For this reason, he wanted to give community leaders and children advocates of the Kiwanis Club an overview of the system.
He started by saying the majority of the public does not understand everything Juvenile Court does, as there are laws and statutes bound to cases of the youth making them confidential.
Breaking it down in a “nutshell,” Judge Philyaw discussed how his profession handles two big categories: juvenile delinquency matters and adverse childhoods situations.
Part of the reason for having Juvenile Court is to deal with children who make mistakes that would be considered criminal if committed by adults. The court offers rehabilitation to these children to help prevent them from committing criminal acts in the future.
Juvenile Court even uses different verbiage to remove the “taint of criminality” from children. For example, Judge Philyaw will say “delinquent act” instead of “criminal act,” and “adjudicate” instead of “convict” when speaking to a child.
Whereas the Chancery or Circuit Court settle matters of child support, custody, and visitation rights of children whose parents are getting divorced, for children born out of wedlock, the state Juvenile Court settles these cases.
Juvenile Court also has jurisdiction for all dependency neglect issues. When children are abused or neglected, they are brought to Juvenile Court. In the event a child must be removed from his or her family, Judge Philyaw said his organization strives for reunification of the family, even after that child is placed in foster care.
If the family cannot be reunited, someone will eventually file for the state to terminate the parents’ rights over the child. Judge Philyaw presides over this serious filing. If he approves the termination of the parents’ rights to their child, that child can go on to be adopted.
If a juvenile stacks up multiple offenses, it will likely be asked of the judge to remove that individual’s status as a minor. When this happens, the individual is then prosecuted as an adult.
"That’s a serious, serious matter,” Judge Philyaw said.
The good news is the judge has seen county delinquency filings follow the national trend and go down. He believes this is because there are more School Resource Officers, or SROs, in schools than ever before. The SROs are reportedly trying to handle more things “in house.” They help prevent and solve a lot of crimes, and they do a good job, Judge Philyaw said.
He spoke on the addition of Youth Court—an extracurricular activity involving 40 selected students at a time who get to do things like shadow Juvenile Court attorneys as they prepare their cases.
Something completely different, Drug Court strives to help teens recover from drug addictions.
“We have teenagers in Hamilton County who are addicted to serious drugs,” Judge Philyaw said. “Heroine has become a real issue in the last year or so.”
Drug Court has fully functioned for nearly two years and has had about four to eight people in it at a time. So far two students have graduated from the program. Judge Philyaw said the system is “batting 50/50.”
Another program recently started at Juvenile Court involves the Chattanooga Police Department. It aims to wrap its services around the most serious juvenile offenders in efforts of keeping them out of prison.
The Kiwanis Club member who introduced Judge Philyaw said he exemplifies what a Juvenile Court judge ought to be. The member went on to say this is because of the judge’s dedication and compassion towards children.