December 27, 2010

A Due Respect for Political Patronage Job Holders

Justin Katz

Looking out the window prior to work, today, brings to mind this article about truants that I've been meaning to note for a few weeks, now:

For years, magistrates for Rhode Island Family Court's truancy program have imprisoned students who misbehave during hearings on their attendance, despite a state law created to keep the government from locking up juveniles for noncriminal offenses.

The magistrates, who run the weekly truancy court in classrooms, cafeterias and school offices around the state, have declared youths as young as 12 in criminal contempt of court for not answering their questions, swearing, slamming a door on their way out of the room or otherwise showing "total disregard for authority," according to court documents and interviews.

Once inside the state's juvenile correctional system, the youths are forced to undergo strip searches, urine and blood tests. They wear prison uniforms and, for a night or two, mix with teenagers accused of drug dealing, robbery, weapons possession, assault and other violent crimes.

All of this without legal representation. Moreover, as we note from time to time (here and here, for two), magistrates are tainted by the fact that they are not appointed by the same process as judges, but by the Chief Justice of the RI Supreme Court and by other magistrates.

Imprisoning kids for disrespect is certainly the sort of thing that the holder of a political patronage job would talk him or her self into believing to be in the best interest of all involved. Perhaps people acting as judges who aren't judges at all, but mere politically connected lawyers, come to believe that they're above the law. Or perhaps they feel like they've got something to prove.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I was totally unaware of these proceedings. To my mind it harkens back to the day when it was an offense to be a "stubborn child". This later became "juvenile delinquency". I am not sure that we have yet developed a method of dealing with confused, wayward children. Somehow, I don't believe that jailing a 12 year old for being unable to deal with a system he cannot fully understand is the solution. Jailing a kid for slamming a door may teach him not to slam doors. While not certain of psychological terms, I suspect there may be some "transference" and the kid will act out his aggression/confusion in another way, one in which he expects to avoid punishment.

I understand that "everyone has to eat", but still wonder who wants this job. I am reminded of the old black and white "tear jerker" movies from the 30's. These frequently centered on "reform schools" managed by frost bitten civil servants.

I assume that these are disaffected children from failed families. I don't know the solution. I suspect that incarceration will give them an education that they could do without.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at December 27, 2010 9:10 AM

Videotape the proceedings. If child misbehaves, order parent to pick up the tape.

If parent doesn't correct the situation, or even pick up the tape; then it's in God's hands. Neither the school or the courts are going to help that kid if his parents won't.

Posted by: George at December 27, 2010 1:08 PM

What is the answer? There's a lot of nay saying on this issue but I've not seen a legitimate alternative. The courtroom is the last bastien of respect and civility in our society. If children cannot control themselves in a courtroom, where then? If the cannot control themselves, they must suffer immediate consequences to restore their civility. They probably should be segregated from the general population but it can't hurt to give them a glimpse of their future.

Posted by: Max Diesel at December 27, 2010 1:53 PM


I suspect you were never a problem kid.


Good idea. Although I suspect the parent(s) have already forsaken child rearing.

Posted by: WarringtonFaust at December 27, 2010 2:34 PM

"... politically connected lawyers, come to believe that they're above the law."

Aren't you assuming the appointed magistrates know the law?

Possible answers to the question 'who would want to be a magistrate': (1) Someone who wants to wear a black robe, be called Your Honor, and be shown deference and respect because it is mandated, not earned. Just the kind of person most likely to react to a child's lack of the mandated respect by locking them up in the Training School with dangerous criminals. (2) Someone whose goal is the black robe (see #1) but who would not get through the public process of judicial appointment due to lack of legal experience and/or past bad actions as an attorney subject to disciplinary action. (3) Someone who wants a generous paycheck but who is not successful as an attorney. (4) Someone who wants to retire, work a few hours a week, and collect a generous paycheck from the taxpayers. (5) Someone who cares about kids and wants to help them get on the right path.

If a town or city wants to have a truancy court, let them have the authority and have the executive body of the town/city appoint the truant court officer(s). Have all proceedings videotaped. Punishments could include detention, or community service - there are many important life lessons to be learned in serving others, whether it's voluntary or mandatory.

Get volunteers from the community involved in teaching these detentions and supervising the community service. Teach a skill, talk about their businesses, business and professional people sharing what they do, how they got there, where they came from, give these kids some skills and some hope.

These town/city truancy courts would have NO authority to incarcerate children. If children commit crimes, refer them for criminal prosecution and let the State Court system takes over.

Posted by: riborn at December 27, 2010 3:03 PM

I second Warrington's reaction- these are children, not criminals. And I applaud the Projo for bringing this to our attention. But Justin's take on it is troubling. Is it only a problem to Justin that the magistrates who have sent children to jail have been chosen by a Democrat majority system? I have to ask- if it were Governor Carcieri that had appointed these people - would Justin highlight this article? Would Justin see it differently- more the way that Max Diesel does?

Posted by: David S at December 27, 2010 6:57 PM

I don't know how often I have to tell you folks that I'm not a partisan but an ideologue, and one of my ideological concerns is clear and consistent civic process. If it had been judges handling the kids thus, then I would have objected on other grounds.

But the fact of the matter is that they aren't judges, but magistrates, so it remains at least plausible that something in the differing appointment process for these non-judge judges creates the conditions for such actions.

How quickly you forget, by the way, criticisms that I've had of various Republicans, including Carcieri. Do you not remember, David, or are you more of a plugged-in activist than I've thought?

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 27, 2010 7:08 PM

"But the fact of the matter is that they aren't judges, but magistrates, so it remains at least plausible that something in the differing appointment process for these non-judge judges creates the conditions for such actions."

Little known to people who have not had difficulties with a bureaucracy, this is part and parcel of the bureaucratic system in our country. They are called "Administrative Law Judges" (ALJ's). They are appointed by the Executive branch, and are not part of the judiciary. Their function is to resolve the claims of parties aggrieved by a decision of an administrative agency. Supposedly, they are appointed after competitive examination. One always wonders, if they were not plucked from the belly of the beast, do they eventually become an organ?

Like Bankruptcy Judges (until fairly recently) they are not "Article II" judges, They are not approved by the Senate, and do not enjoy all of the privileges and prerogatives of a Federal judge.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at December 27, 2010 9:45 PM

Justin, I have not forgotten that you are an ideologue. But I do indeed stand corrected. I read more on Truancy court and on magistrates. Donna Walsh has proposed legislation that would treat magistrates like judges in regards to appointments. Potential magistrates would be selected by the executive branch and then confirmed by the senate,the same process that exists for judges.
Still though, if a vetted magistrate, hired like a judge, threw a child in jail in truancy court, it would be dead wrong, and a terrible abuse of power.

Posted by: David S at December 28, 2010 4:32 PM

The magistrates bullying children and their parents were not appointed by the executive branch and are not administrative law judges.

The truancy "magistrates" are just lawyers (friends?) appointed by Family Ct. Chief Justice Jeremiah. Jeremiah created the truancy court "program" in 1999 under the Family Court and gave undefined power to those lawyers. Who knows if the positions were even advertised, or where the money comes from to pay the magistrates? At least one lawyer/"magistrate" closed his practice upon appointment and donning the black robe, so the paycheck must be somewhat decent.

The Jeremiah truancy courts should all be shut down, the "magistrates" removed - NOT given other state lollipops - and let the towns and cities deal with the problem children on their own terms.

See article Projo March 29, 2010 re: ACLU sues Jeremiah.

Posted by: riborn at December 28, 2010 8:12 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.