Statewide Juvenile Bench-Bar meetings address hot topics

Issue July 2011 By Peter A. Hahn

Last August, I met with Juvenile Court Chief Justice Michael F. Edgerton and pitched the idea of bench-bar meetings across the state co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Administrative Office of the Juvenile Court. I am grateful that he agreed.

The bench-bar meetings were a success. Hundreds of lawyers attended. Many Juvenile Court judges, including most first justices, were able to participate. We hit the road in Hadley out west and made our way to Andover, Brockton, Worcester and finally to Boston. Chief Justice Edgerton addressed the bar after the final meeting in Boston on June 6.

There were several hot topics. Standing Order 1-10 requires that care and protection trials conclude within 30 days and that adjudication occur within 30 days after the close of evidence. The order presents scheduling difficulties in many courts. The Hadley forum focused primarily on the creation of a court session in Western Massachusetts dedicated to care and protection trials to prevent "rolling" trials (when trial dates get scheduled over many months).

In January, a new law went into effect regarding additional rights for young adults ages 18-22 in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. The Juvenile Court retains jurisdiction over these cases, conducts permanency hearings, and approves transition plans. Aging out youth also retain the right to counsel during this time, so attorneys may continue representing clients or new counsel may be appointed. James Morton, Esq., case manager for the Administrative Office, explained what the Juvenile Court was doing to implement the new law.

We also spoke about the evolution of harassment prevention orders, the expansion of the Youth Advocacy Department of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the new community casework model for the Department of Youth Services, budget concerns regarding court staff reductions and court-appointed counsel, and other regional issues and local programming.

The meetings were a combination of education and discussion. They presented a unique opportunity for judges and practitioners to air candid thoughts and questions outside the context of specific cases. The result was a constructive dialogue that will hopefully strengthen ties between the bench and bar and improve the court process.

There are several people who helped organize the meetings. I worked closely with Jim Morton coordinating scheduling, programming, agendas and panel participation. Jean Stevens and Pat Plasse from the MBA were instrumental in making sure every last detail was covered. Martha Rush O'Mara, Esq., vice chair of the Juvenile and Child Welfare Section Council, moderated in Hadley.

I also want to thank all the judges who participated and Chief Justice Edgerton for his ongoing support throughout the year.

Peter A. Hahn is chair of the Juvenile and Child Welfare Section Council. His practice in Newton focuses on education, juvenile, criminal, DCF and adoption matters.