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Press Release: Legal Lines with Locke Meredith

Guest: Jacqueline Nash

Show # 108

Attorney, Locke Meredith, interviews Jacqueline Nash.  Professor Nash is an attorney in Baton Rouge, as well as a professor of law at Southern University.  They will discuss the juvenile court system, how it works, and what happens when a child is abused within it.

Professor Nash is from Shreveport, and she graduated from Southern University in 1980.  After graduating from law school in 1983, she worked for Judge Clark in private practice.  This involved civil and criminal practice.  After eight years with Judge Clark, Professor Nash worked for the State in Child Support Enforcement.

Here, she represented the State in actions toward securing child support payments from parents, mostly fathers.  After this, Professor Nash went to work for the city parish as Assistant Parish Attorney under Lynn Williams, when she was Parish Attorney.  This was mostly administrative and small torte litigation, like when a garbage truck ran over a trash can.

After this, Professor Nash went back to the State and worked for the Department of Social Services.  Professor Nash worked as a regional attorney representing children in need of care from abusive or neglectful parents.  She explains that it was very emotional.  There are essentially three parties involved: the state who has taken custody of the child to protect them from what is believed to be an abusive situation, the parents, and the attorney there, representing the child.  Furthermore, there is a separate attorney with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) that represents the interests of the child, separate from the state and the parents, who makes recommendations to the court.  This is all presided over by a judge.  Also, in Louisiana there is what’s called an eighteen-month plan, from the time the child was removed till 18 months, there has to be a permanency plan.  This means that children have a right to a family, and this will occur either in the form of termination of family rights, long-term foster care, independent living, or to be free for adoption, within eighteen months.

After this, Professor Nash went to work for Capitol Area Legal Services, where she says she, “hit her groove in my legal practice.”  She was the section chief for the public benefits, such as Social Security, SSI, food stamps, AFDC.   After six years with Capitol Area Legal Services, Professor Nash became the executive director of Louisiana legal contortion.  This is the training center for all the legal services in Louisiana.  After this, Professor Nash found her true mission, becoming a professor at Southern University Law School.  Here, she teaches juvenile law clinic and juvenile justice seminar.   She is also the proud coach of the national award winning mock trial team.   Besides that, Professor Nash has won the Reginald Hughbert Smith Award, she is a Reggie, meaning she is an attorney awarded for passion and their quest for equal justice, and she even toured comedy clubs, and won.

Next, the conversation turns toward juvenile justice.  This is a topic that is shrouded in secrecy.  The criminal side of juvenile court is known technically as “delinquency.”  Children face the same process and rights as adults, with a few notable differences.  One of these is timing.  Once a child is detained (children are “detained” not jailed), they must go to trial within thirty days.  Children may be held responsible for a crime starting at age ten.  If under the age of ten, the juvenile court still has jurisdiction, but it’s handled then under the Family in Need of Services, a different process.  Children who commit a crime at age seventeen or above face the same processing as an adult.   Children sixteen or younger who commit a crime cannot be detained past age twenty-one, even for heinous crimes.  The goal of the juvenile program is rehabilitation, finding the root of the problem and dealing with that.

This is how the juvenile process works.  The child who commits a crime is detained, put in jail (detention) and then they have a detention hearing within seventy-two hours.  This hearing currently occurs before either Judge Kathleen Richie, in division A, and Judge Johnson in Division B, in East Baton Rouge Parish.  If the judge finds probable cause, the child doesn’t necessarily remain in detention.  They, like an adult, have a right to bond.  Unlike adult cases, the juveniles are not always held in jail until court.  Instead, after the detention hearing, the case goes to the DA, where he/she decides if they will prosecute the case.  If so, then comes the appearance hearing, when the defendant pleads.  Next in the process is the adjudication, which is the trial.  Here evidence is presented to the judge, however, unlike adult cases, there is no jury.

After the trial, the child is found to be either guilty or not guilty.  In juvenile court, guilty is referred to as “delinquent.”  Delinquents face a sentencing hearing, the disposition, next.  Sentencing can be: probation and monitoring, secured custody, or non-secured custody.  Secured custody means jail, whereas non-secured means a group home.  Unfortunately, there is a high recidivism rate, meaning a lot of these kids come back for multiple crimes after they have been tried before.   Professor Nash explains that this is probably due to a lack of facilities, a lack of counselors, a lack of funding, ect.  There is only one facility for juvenile sex offenders in the State of Louisiana.   Small successes are what we have to find victory in, explains Professor Nash, in the midst of fighting this huge battle.

The other side of the legal court system involved children in abusive homes.  Children in need of care come in the form of medical abuse, medical neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and other forms of abusive homes.  The State seeks to eradicate these problems and reunite these families if possible.  To report these cases, there is a 1-800 hotline and also you can do it by calling 911.   Informed authorities will go out and investigate, remove children if it is warranted, and then begins the legal process.  The parents have the right to an attorney, then there is a hearing called a continued custody hearing.  If the child is removed, the State spends eighteen months trying to reunite the family.  It could be less than eighteen months if the family gets their act together.  If the family is not suitable for custody after eighteen months, then the State will terminate their custody, and seek relative placement or foster care.  This process, Professor Nash says, is very successful.

Lastly, they discuss Professor Nash’s role at Southern University’s Law School.  At Southern, they have had a clinical education program for thirty plus years.  They have seven clinics, and operate as a legal services program, a pro bono project.