Monday, April 21, 2008

The Juvenile Appointments

Probably the worst four months of my life as a prosecutor was the time I spent as a prosecutor in the Juvenile Division.

It was many moons ago, and I was a rookie prosecutor, having been at the Office less than a year. The entire system was unproductive, in my opinion. The dockets were pointless because cases rarely worked out, and yet, it seemed, they rarely went to trial, either. The kids almost always went home to the custody of their parents, whether found to have engaged in delinquent conduct or not.

The whole damn thing was just so . . . frustrating.

There was a natural course of business there. If a case was on it's first setting, it wouldn't work out. I mean, it wouldn't work out if you offered a dismissal, an apology, and a free trip to Chuck E. Cheese. It was going to get reset. That's all there was to it.

Only those juvenile delinquents who were the Heir to Charles Manson's throne were ever treated with any degree of severity or seriousness. And for those of you saying "that's how it should be, they are just children", I would agree in principle.

Except you haven't met some of these kids.

Yes, some of them are kids (caught up in our over-policed school system) who are charged with Assaults on the very same type of incidents that their fathers received swats from the Principal for.

But some of those kids . . .

They are freaking scary.

The problem with the System is that there wasn't a whole lot of time spent separating the truly demented juvenile from the kid just being a kid. If you think that the Bond Schedule is uniform, and doesn't take into account the severity (or lack thereof) of all the circumstances, you've never seen anything like the juvenile system back in the day.

That was a long time ago, and I don't know the current status now. The Juvenile Division is headed by a different Division Chief now, and two out of the three judges that were there when I was are now gone. Unfortunately, my least favorite of the three remains on the bench.

The Chronicle did an interesting article on the cronyism of the Juvenile System this weekend. It pointed out the fact that the minority of the attorneys there are making the majority of the appointment money.

Frankly, that doesn't bother me all that much (and no, I'm not one of the ones listed).

Juvenile law takes specialized knowledge. One of the things I do recall from my time there was that when I went, I had to "unlearn" regular criminal procedure, and learn Juvenile Law. They aren't "Defendants", they are "Respondents". A "respondent" isn't guilty of a crime. They engaged in delinquent behavior (God forbid that they feel guilt!). Leaving juvenile to go back into the regular courts required a de-briefing.

My point is that if those attorneys mentioned in the article actually want to do the juvenile appointments, then more power to them! I know that I sure as hell don't. The majority of the folks listed in there were around back when I was. And they were all very knowledgeable in Juvenile Law, and that is what is needed. Sure, there is a big financial incentive, but who cares? They get the job done.

The issue that the Chronicle touched on but didn't really focus on is the bigger issue, actually. I don't think they got it.

If there is "cronyism" within the Juvenile system, it doesn't have to deal with who gets appointed to the cases. It has to deal with what they do once appointed.

Ask yourself this: if the cases and their outcomes are so "cookie-cutter" (for lack of a better word), then why does it take six resets to dispose of a case with no issues to it?

Before the Civil Libertarians start getting all up in arms and say that I'm advocating attorneys not thoroughly researching their clients' cases, just put a lid on it. That's not what I'm saying.

What I'm saying is that the System (at least as I knew it, way back when) was very open to abuses. Cases being reset so that an attorney could get another "setting fee" of a couple of hundred dollars, when all they were doing was signing a Reset document. No work was being done, but, baby, people were getting paid.

If I was a kid (a good kid) who had a juvenile case pending, probably the first thing on my mind would be to get the damn thing over with. The sooner the better. Being in limbo creates nothing but angst and uncertainty, and if your attorney is resetting your case just to get another setting fee, then he isn't really acting in your best interest, now is he?

So, I guess my overall point is (and yes, it comes with the caveat that it has been years since I was in juvenile) that I wouldn't criticize the fact that the same lawyers are getting appointed in juvenile over and over again.

But, I might take a look at what the average number of resets that an attorney was able to get.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is a horrible dichotomy in the juvenile system. On one extreme, there are kids in the juvenile criminal system who are facing prosecution for doing things that got you a detention when I was in school.

On the other extreme, there are kids who are nothing more than felon larvae. The ACLU types would take great offense at this, but they are completely lost causes. And they consistently get slaps on the wrist for stealing cars, breaking into houses, and other behavior that should be dealt with harshly. A slap on the wrist and the promise of a tutor and counseling will not do anything to "save" these kids. They need to be dealt with harshly so they realize that the real world does not tolerate that behavior. The argument that they are only kids only goes so far. Especially with the repeat offenders; those who would be "true habituals" in adult court.

Ron in Houston said...

Yes, it takes a special person to want to deal with juvenile cases.

However, the juvenile courts are way, way too incestuous. I personally know of stories of people banished because they were too pushy in their advocacy of their client's cases.

I do a lot of CPS work, but simply refuse to do it over there. I will fight a case to trial and will appeal if I think my client got the wrong outcome. The juvenile court judges don't like that attitude.

Anonymous said...

Since you didn't say it, I will: "Shelton."

A jerk of a person and a bad judge.

Of course, Phillips constantly appointing his partner doesn't look great. But you're right that there aren't a lot of attorneys both willing and able to handle these types of cases. The judges just need to supervise, and stop paying out for needless resets.

Anonymous said...

I know a very qualified lawyer who practiced juvenile in another county, yet hasn't gotten any appts. in juvenile and was told to start contributing...yes, it's a specialized area of the law, but it doesn't need to be tied to political contributions.