Saturday, May 24, 2008

Going to Court to celebrate - Montgomery County Teen Court

The Montgomery County Teens Court celebrated the 11th anniversary on 21st May and invited all the parents of the Teen volunteers to come and watch the proceedings and celebrate the occasion. In an earlier post on this blog I had mentioned this program briefly.Now I got a chance to see this first hand how the tten court works.

After a brief celebration ceremony where the "Betty Ann Kranke" award was presented to the best Teen volunteer. The whole process where the Teen jurors register for their assignments, get thier assignments was conducted so professionally. The always energetic Georgine Debord the Teen Court Coodinator in the State's Attorney for Montgomery county did a good job in taking care of the whole proceedings.

The Teen court is serious business. The Judges are actual County judges who volunteer their time. One quote from the Judge Bill Neal was memorable- " Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking ". In this system the teem volunteers learn about the judicial system. The offenders I think learn the impact even more when their sentences are recommended by their peers.

The volunteers are allotted courtrooms and they perform the functions of Clerk, Bailiff and Jury. Cases are heard as in a real court and the judges educate the volunteers while giving them guidance. I was sworn to secrecy not to reveal any specifics of any of the case heard which is reasonable.

From the enthusiasm of the Coordinator Gerogine Debord and the judges I am happy to say that I am impressed by the way the Montgomery County court systems works. My previous experiences with Government departments previouly has been lack lustre ceremonies without any employee enthusiasm.

Here is how the Montgomery county website describes the proceedings:


The respondent and the volunteers appear in a Circuit courtroom in front of a real judge. The judges, including Circuit, District, and Special Appeals judges volunteer their time. The volunteer judges are present to answer legal questions and set the tone for the courtroom, but it is the teens that decide sanctions after listening to mitigating and aggravating factors. Community service hours and jury duty are mandatory sanctions.

The jury duty, in which the respondents return on another teen court evening and sit on the jury themselves, gives them an interesting perspective that is very useful. The community service is also very effective. Teen Court respondents have completed over 65,000 hours of community service. They participated at various community locations including shelters, nursing homes, schools, etc. In addition to the community service and the jury duty, the teens are often asked to write apology letters or essays. They are often referred to educational classes, as well as Shoplifting Prevention Programs.

Most of the referrals come directly from the police department. The teens, generally first time offenders, are offered an opportunity to complete their sanctions within 60 days from their Teen Court hearing. When they complete, a notice is sent to the police department informing them and recommending

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