Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw told the Pachyderm Club Monday that he does not support a bill pushed by Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton that would move more youth offenders out of Juvenile Court.
He said, "This goes against everything Tennessee has ever done to try to rehabilitate youthful offenders."
Judge Philyaw said the Tennessee Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 "stripped away some of our rehabilitative tools saying we were being too hard on kids. Now all of a sudden we are not hard enough and they are going to send more cases to Criminal Court."
Judge Philyaw said he is “thankful” that Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Tennessee Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 took some effective rehabilitation tools from judges, he said. The new bill would send some 17-year-olds and younger minors to adult criminal court.
He estimated that would mean transferring 200 minors to criminal court per year and putting them on a path to jail, he said. So far this year he’s sent five juveniles to adult criminal court, he said. He sent 12 in 2022 and eight in 2021, he stated.
Judge Philyaw spoke to the Pachyderm Club on the anniversary of the Republican Party, which club officials said was founded March 20, 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery in the West.
Judge Philyaw will celebrate his own 10th anniversary as a Juvenile Court judge this May. He is only the fifth Juvenile Court judge in Hamilton County. Juvenile Court came to Tennessee in the 1940s, he said.
Judge Philyaw said that Hamilton County is the first Juvenile Court in Tennessee to require parents to attempt mediation with each other to create a parenting plan together before bringing a custody battle to court.
The measure was written into local rules and practices Jan. 1 this year. He said his court sees mostly family law, including custody, visitation and child support, not teenage crime.
“Foster care in Tennessee has had some issues, but it’s on the mend,” he said. He praised three state-level efforts in the last year to bring the starting salary for case workers to $50,600, up from about $35,000 just two years ago, to combat staffing shortages and high turnover.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “We need more foster parents.”
He said his court terminates parental rights for about one child a week.
He told the Pachyderm Club that the Hamilton County Child Support offices at South Holtzclaw and East Main Street are “old and dilapidated.”
He said he’s recently shrunk his staff from 100 to 96 to make room for medical care positions in the juvenile detention unit, and also for armed, uniformed deputy positions provided by the sheriff’s office for better safety. He plans to add more uniformed deputies, he said.
Judge Philyaw is in line to become president of the Tennessee Family and Juvenile Court Judges Council. He is also the current president of the Chattanooga Bar Association.