KATHLEEN RICHEY, EAST BATON ROUGE JUVENILE COURT JUDGE,

Locke Meredith: Hello I’m Locke Meredith and I’d like to invite you to join me on the next Legal Lines. I have Judge Kathleen Richey; she is the Juvenile Court Judge for East Baton Rouge Parish. She is going to talk to us about frankly, the invisible kids of our society and how our culture deals with them. She’s going to talk about kids who are making mistakes and how we stop and help them and give them the skills they need to be productive citizens in society. So join us on the next Legal Lines with Judge Kathleen Richey.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome to Legal Lines, I’m Locke Meredith. I’m very pleased to have on the show Kathleen Stewart Ritchey. She’s a Judge for The Juvenile Court for East Baton Rouge Parish. Judge, thank you so much for being on the show.

I’m really kind of excited about this show. I think this is an area of the law and an area of our society that frankly, most folks don’t know a lot about.

Kathleen Richey: That’s true.

Locke Meredith: Tell the folks a little bit about yourself. Educational background, employment history, that kind of stuff.

Kathleen Richey: Well, I grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from Baton Rouge High. I then went to college at Louisiana Tech. After I graduated from Louisiana Tech I returned to LSU Law School. When I completed Law School, I was a Law Clerk for Judge Dan LeBlanc and then went into private practice doing a lot of public government law as well as some tort litigation but I was a part time public defender.

Locke Meredith: It takes a special person to do that.

Kathleen Richey: I was sent as a Public Defender to Juvenile Court. I was the first Public Defender. The Family Court exercised Juvenile Jurisdiction at the time and made a decision to have a Public Defender sent to Juvenile Court, Family Court. I was one of the first ones that went there and I can tell you, I didn’t want to go. That was not anything I had studied in Law School, not something that I had any knowledge of the law or skill with. But once I got there, I found that was where I needed to be. It was my temperament was well suited for working with kids. I found the work to be exciting and interesting, as well as challenging and often quite satisfying. I had many clients, as kids, who never had anyone believe in them or stand up for them or even fuss at them when they messed up.

Locke Meredith: Just didn’t show any interest, caring or concern at all.

Kathleen Richey: They were basically raising themselves and so they really appreciated the work that I did. I was in the Juvenile Court for two and a half years and then I transferred to District Court. I was in the Public Defenders Office for several years after that. I always missed the kid clients. I would handle the cases for the Defenders Office that might be a little more complicated. Then in 1990 when the full time seat, The Juvenile Court was created, I thought that is where I needed to be and I ran and was lucky enough to be elected.

Locke Meredith: And you’ve been there eighteen years.

Kathleen Richey: This will be my eighteenth year.

Locke Meredith: Wow. Basically prior to that time the Juvenile matters were handled in Family Court and then statutes were passed that created the Juvenile Court which you have been the Judge for the past eighteen years.

Kathleen Richey: Right. Juvenile Court for this parish was created in 1991. Family Court, up to that time, had handled the Juvenile jurisdiction. Then it was put into one court and I was the only single Judge Court at the time in the State. I handled all of those matters. For four years I was the only Juvenile Court Judge.

Locke Meredith: And you were the first Juvenile Court Judge.

Kathleen Richey: The first Juvenile Court Judge and the only one for four years.

Locke Meredith: So there is no one that has any more experience at this than you is there.

Kathleen Richey: Well there is no one that has been there as long as me.

Locke Meredith: It’s interesting you know when you hear about Juvenile Court frankly what pops into my head is all the kids that are just a pain. They are bad, you don’t want to have anything to do with them, and you just want to get them out of society. That’s really not the way it is. I know its not.

Kathleen Richey: Well those kids are there.

Locke Meredith: They are there, but you’ve seen the other side of it.

Kathleen Richey: There’s a lot of types of other cases that end up in Juvenile Court. The type that most people are familiar with are the delinquencies. The kids that commit crimes before they turn seventeen. I have that small percentage of kids that are violent and dangerous to be in the community, and we deal with those kids. We also deal with kids who have made real big mistakes and just need some guidance and some consequences. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t impose consequences than a young person has no real motivation to avoid the same bad behavior. I know in my own home if I didn’t punish, impose rule infractions by my children, I would quickly lose control of their behavior. Even minor offenses, I believe require some sort of appropriate response from society and government. I see mostly kids who have done property crimes, a lot of joy riding. Kids always want to drive before they can. We do have some violent offenders who for a variety of reasons, we have a lot of kids in this community who have some serious mental health issues.

Locke Meredith: And they are the violent offenders?

Kathleen Richey: Typically they are the violent offenders.

Locke Meredith: You know it’s so interesting too because you covered the gambit of what you deal with. You have dealt with murder, rapists.

Kathleen Richey: I’ve tried murder cases in my court room.

Locke Meredith: Down to the, like you said, joy riders or stealing a candy bar down at the Circle K.

Kathleen Richey: Spray painting their neighbor’s mailbox.

Locke Meredith: It’s an unbelievable gambit of cases that you have to deal with.

Kathleen Richey: Well it’s any criminal case as long as the crime is committed before the person turns seventeen.

Locke Meredith: And that’s what your jurisdiction is. If they are under seventeen and they get in trouble they are coming to see you.

Kathleen Richey: Right. Now there is a small percentage of cases for kids that are fifteen and sixteen for the violent offenders that the DA can choose to take to District Court.

Locke Meredith: That would be the murders?

Kathleen Richey: Murders, armed robberies, some aggravated rapes, aggravated kidnapping. The more violent and serious offenses and it’s the District Attorneys call.

Locke Meredith: So if they are fifteen or older, the District Attorney can decide whether or not they are going to prosecute…

Kathleen Richey: In Juvenile Court or District Court.

Locke Meredith: What criteria do they use?

Kathleen Richey: Well, there is a statutory criteria that the law outlines what the DA has to be able to establish in order to take a case to District Court. The age and the type of offense are obviously the gateway. If a child has shown that they are not amenable to juvenile rehabilitation, the way the law is written. In other words, the child has been exposed to juvenile treatment and hasn’t changed his ways, hasn’t rehabilitated then the DA can seek to transfer the case to District Court.

Locke Meredith: So bottom line is that if they are a repeat offender and they haven’t changed then they are coming.

Kathleen Richey: But it is the violent offenses and it is outlined in the law very specifically what kind of cases can be transferred to District Court.

Locke Meredith: It’s interesting, I think my partner Sean Fagan has practiced in front of you a little bit.

Kathleen Richey: Yes, he was an Assistant District Attorney.

Locke Meredith: And Sean said he would run into situations where he the older criminals would get the younger guys to do the violent crimes because there was a potentially lesser consequence.

Kathleen Richey: It’s only been within the last six or seven years that a child as young as fourteen could go to District Court. So you had to be fifteen for some offenses and sixteen for some offenses to be tried as an adult.

Locke Meredith: Now if violent offenders tried at the Juvenile Court level, are the consequences that he could suffer because of that criminal behavior be less than if you are in the criminal system?

Kathleen Richey: Well the Juvenile jurisdiction ends at age twenty one. So the maximum sentence they can receive from a Juvenile Judge is being in custody until the age of twenty one.

Locke Meredith: So the bottom line is that if there is a murder or I rape someone and the DA doesn’t prosecute me and its in front of you, despite what you want to do, the most you can do if they are fifteen or twelve the maximum time they are staying in prison is until the age of twenty one.

Kathleen Richey: Right.

Locke Meredith: Unbelievable. Alright, this is Locke Meredith, Legal Lines, and Judge Kathleen Ritchey. We will be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines. Again, I am pleased to have on the show Judge Kathleen Stewart Richey. She is the Juvenile Court Judge here in East Baton Rouge Parish. Let’s talk about the tools that you available to you Judge. When you have the kids that come in front of you. We’ve talked about those that are violent offenders, and the most you can do; I guess the most serious consequence is send them away until they are the age of twenty one.

Kathleen Richey: Right. Under the law there are some offenses where a child has to be committed to State custody or secured which is the correctional centers.

Locke Meredith: It’s kind of like putting them in prison.

Kathleen Richey: Which is LTI, it’s a Juvenile Prison.

Locke Meredith: Is that facility the same as a parish prison or Angola or anything?

Kathleen Richey: It’s run by the Department of Corrections. It is the Juvenile version of Angola. Our particular division of the system has been attacked by the Department of Justice and is under, to some extent, some Federal Court monitoring for safety issues.

Locke Meredith: For what?

Kathleen Richey: Those kids have been abused in the correctional system.

Locke Meredith: Really? By guards?

Kathleen Richey: By both. By guards and by inmate on inmate. The legislature demanded recently that the department of corrections close the Jetson Center for Youth which is up here in Baton Rouge.

Locke Meredith: Now do they mix the twenty one year olds with the twelve year olds or fifteen year olds?

Kathleen Richey: They’re not supposed to.

Locke Meredith: But they do.

Kathleen Richey: I think that there are times when they look more at a young person’s size than their age and their ability to function in a group of kids. If a seventeen year old is small and fragile he may do better with a group of twelve and thirteen year olds. Whereas if you have a real big, burly fourteen year old he may be fine with the seventeen year olds.

Locke Meredith: There’s no guidelines?

Kathleen Richey: Not in the law. There are in the policies that the Department of Corrections implements.

Locke Meredith: That is kind of scary.

Kathleen Richey: Well scarier is the fact that I cannot direct them. Under the law I cannot tell them where to place a child. So a child I have placed in State custody may very well end up in a group home in Baton Rouge.

Locke Meredith: Who specifically makes that decision?

Kathleen Richey: The Department of Corrections.

Locke Meredith: Who in the Department of Corrections?

Kathleen Richey: Well the division for juveniles, used to be called the office of juvenile development and it recently changed its name to The Office of Juvenile Justice. There is a scoring sheet that the agency uses to decide where a young person should be placed. They are required to tell me where they have placed a kid on my docket and there if been times when I have called them up and said “absolutely not this kid will be at risk in the community.”

Locke Meredith: And are they responsive?

Kathleen Richey: Generally. Generally if it’s a kid that I really feel like would pose a risk to the community and I think he needs to be in a more secure setting than we will replace that child.

Locke Meredith: Are you kind of the sole monitor of that?

Kathleen Richey: Yes and I am also the parole board. The kids can’t work their way out without seeing me.

Locke Meredith: Goodness gracious alive. So you have the incarceration so to speak. What other tools do you have available to you?

Kathleen Richey: Well there are a number of diversion programs that are in existence. Baton Rouge now has a teen court so some of the non violent and first offenders are being placed in the teen court program. Which includes some counseling components and some community service components. It’s only been in effect for about a year but it has had a remarkable success rate. It’s actually operated by the Baton Rouge Bar Association. Its biggest challenge right now is keeping itself funded.

Locke Meredith: So no State funds? Is it privately funded?

Kathleen Richey: It has been funded by State funds at this point and the Bar Association has contributed in services and in monetary support for the program. We are constantly applying for grants and trying to have the matter funded. I have actually been trying to get onto the Mayors radar to talk about local funding for the program because I think it can really make a difference for those first offenders who might not otherwise have any attention at all.

Locke Meredith: And why is it so successful?

Kathleen Richey: Because it is the first time offender who is having his conduct addressed and it’s being addressed by his peers. The teen court functions as a sentencing court.

Locke Meredith: So it’s a group of their fellow peers that sit on the court and render the consequence to the bad behavior?

Kathleen Richey: Right. Baton Rouge Lawyers are working with these kids so there is a prosecutor, Juvenile prosecutor, that functions in the role of prosecutor. Our Juvenile defense lawyer functions in the role of the defense lawyer. There is a juvenile that is trained to function in the role as the bailiff in the actual court hearings.

Locke Meredith: Now what are the ages?

Kathleen Richey: Fourteen to seventeen.

Locke Meredith: Wow.

Kathleen Richey: There are lawyers who function as the Judge.

Locke Meredith: So there is guidance and overview.

Kathleen Richey: Right and its all volunteer hours by the Baton Rouge Bar Review. They really contributed a good deal in this program to assist first time offenders and redirecting their behavior and they have been very successful. For the more serious offenders or the more frequent offenders we’ve got a couple of programs that have been in place that I am really proud of. I was part of the development of the Eiger program. I can’t explain the name of the program but Mt. Eiger is supposed to be hard to climb so these are supposed to be the hard to handle kids. It’s a program for intensive supervision. It has actually received National recognition.

Locke Meredith: Really?

Kathleen Richey: It has been funded through; initially it was funded by the gun violence reduction act which Congress funded for local programs that showed promise in reducing gun violence. Since then the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has assisted in funding. It’s been a patchwork of funding to keep the program in operation. It’s been very, very successful.

Locke Meredith: Is it difficult to get money for the programs that you know after eighteen years of sitting on the bench work?

Kathleen Richey: Yes.

Locke Meredith: Why?

Kathleen Richey: Baton Rouge has had some remarkable programs that have received National recognition and we are still struggling to keep them funded and running.

Locke Meredith: Why?

Kathleen Richey: I guess you would have to ask those people who have the ability to make those funding decisions.

Locke Meredith: The primary source of funding would come from the State and the City?

Kathleen Richey: And some private foundations and some Federal funds are involved as well.

Locke Meredith: Interesting. And so the people you talk to are the Mayor, Council folks, State Senator?

Kathleen Richey: Yes.

Locke Meredith: Interesting.

Kathleen Richey: I’ve spoken with the Congressional Delegation for Louisiana. We are actually and we may even get a Congressional grant for the Teen Court this time. Senator Landrieu has been a very strong supporter of the Teen programs. So there may be an opportunity to develop some funding from the national government but I’m not holding my breath.

Locke Meredith: So what other tools do you have?

Kathleen Richey: Well the Eiger program is intensive supervision.

Locke Meredith: When you say intensive supervision what do you mean?

Kathleen Richey: They are being checked on three and four times a week.

Locke Meredith: By who?

Kathleen Richey: By Probation Officers. It’s a labor intensive program and that’s why the funding is such an issue. What we are paying for is not electronic monitoring its actual probation officers trained to go and watch the young person. One of the components of that program used to be a life skills academy. Kids would go one night a week to learn how to balance a checkbook, how to do a job interview.

Locke Meredith: To give them skills?

Kathleen Richey: To give them skills to make good decisions.

Locke Meredith: Lets talk about that on the next segment. This is Locke Meredith with Legal Lines, Kathleen Richey. We will be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines I’m Locke Meredith and again I am very pleased to have on the show Judge Kathleen Stewart Richey. She is the Judge for The Juvenile Court in East Baton Rouge Parish. Judge, we were talking about the goal of the Court is to take these kids and stop what they are doing and basically help them change.

Kathleen Richey: Right.

Locke Meredith: And give them skills to be productive.

Kathleen Richey: In fact the law says that but the principles and rationale behind the Juvenile Court are to take these kids who are making mistakes and balance the needs of the child against the safety of the community. Most of the kids that we see are kids that can function well in the community with guidance and some support services. There are a small percentage of kids that are not safe to leave in the community and those are the kids that we put in State custody.

Locke Meredith: You said that last year you handled forty five hundred to five thousand cases?

Kathleen Richey: I would say that it was between thirty five hundred and forty five hundred cases but not all of those are delinquencies.

Locke Meredith: Of that number, how many were delinquency related?

Kathleen Richey: Well I do know that I handled one thousand sixty delinquency cases.

Locke Meredith: And of those about ten percent of those are the ones that you said probably need to be in some type of incarcerated.

Kathleen Richey: Right. Actually, less than ten percent. It’s more like four or five percent. I can tell you that last month I got a report from The Department of Corrections; I have twenty seven kids in secure custody. So there were twenty seven folks that met the legal criteria and in my view were dangerous to leave in the community who are still in State custody.

Locke Meredith: Do we have a boot camp? You know you see TV programs that talk about the boot camp and how successful they are. Do we have such a program?

Kathleen Richey: Well the National Guard runs a boot camp. Its not part of the State, the State structure and its not part of the Court structure. Its obviously something that we work well with called the Youth Challenge.

Locke Meredith: You seem to have great discretion in tools available to you that maybe most Judges don’t.

Kathleen Richey: The Court does have a great deal of discretion.

Locke Meredith: So do you use the boot camp thing?

Kathleen Richey: Oh yes.

Locke Meredith: Does it work?

Kathleen Richey: The National Guard boot camp is a phenomenal program. The kids that have gone thru there have always, if they finish the program, and I’ve had kids that have gone and decided it wasn’t for them or the didn’t meet the criteria to remain in the program or they wouldn’t follow rules and they have been ejected, in which case I deal with those kids. The kids who have gone in and completed the program have done wonderful things. They are now employed. They finish that program generally with a GED and learn job skills; there is even a job challenge component that is a after program.

Locke Meredith: Wonderful.

Kathleen Richey: And those kids are doing great.

Locke Meredith: Well you were telling me earlier when we were off that you actually assigned a kid to read a massive book, which he did in two weeks.

Kathleen Richey: Right. That was a young man who had been not in school on any kind of regular basis. His family was just really broken. He got arrested actually for building a bomb. When they arrested him for building a bomb they found a lot of drugs in his book sack. So he was in detention and he was cutting up so I ordered him to read Crime and Punishment. My thought at the time was this was a real thick book and hard to get thru, it will keep him out of trouble. But he read it within two weeks and gave me a book report. The grammar was horrible and the spelling was atrocious but the content was appropriate. He understand what the author was trying to say.

Locke Meredith: So you kind of intervened and it stopped.

Kathleen Richey: And the thing was that this young man asked for another book. He asked me to assign him another book. He later went to a boot camp and successfully completed the boot camp and finished his GED and was accepted into the Navy and he is now a Lieutenant in the Navy. And I still correspond with him.

Locke Meredith: What a great story. Unfortunately we have some sad stories too. You see a lot of stuff that frankly, I probably couldn’t handle. How do you deal with that? What tools do you have available to you? I am looking at the fact that you have to deal with the relationship of the child with the family. You have to deal with the relationships of the parents and the community.

Kathleen Richey: Many, many cases the problem is the parents. The parent’s attitude and inability to recognize what the child needs in terms of guidance and direction. I’ve actually had parents tell their children not to follow my orders. I have to deal with that.

Locke Meredith: Do you punish the parents?

Kathleen Richey: I have found parents in contempt. I’ve even actually, on a very few, I have placed parents in jail for contempt. I had one case, one notable case, the Mother had some alcoholic issues herself and was not taking her son to drug treatment and it just wasn’t her problem. This was a minor who couldn’t drive anyway so I found her in contempt after repeated occasions to have her change her approach. I put her in jail, her husband, the young mans stepfather, called and thanked me. Her problems were getting out of control. She went from jail to an alcoholic rehabilitation and the family ended up healing after some lengthy time in treatment.

Locke Meredith: How much does alcohol and marijuana play a factor in what you see and deal with?

Kathleen Richey: I see a lot of parents who have a serious problem with alcohol and that does impact on their ability to function as a parent. Leaving kids to kind of raise themselves. I don’t see a lot of underage drinking anymore and initially I did when I first took the bench. Again, Baton Rouge developed the Juvenile Underage Drinking Program.

Locke Meredith: Which you told me earlier was very successful.

Kathleen Richey: It has received National recognition. It’s called JUDE for Juvenile Underage Drinking Enforcement. It was a combined effort between the ABC Board and the Constables Office, Baton Rouge City Police, The District Attorneys Office and Juvenile Court. It has made a significant difference in underage drinking. We’ve not had the same success in diminishing underage drug usage. We have a lot of kids that are regular users of marijuana and I have seen a lot of prescription drugs lately.

Locke Meredith: In your opinion are they medicating their pain from parents that just don’t seem to care about them?

Kathleen Richey: I think these are kids that have problems and there way of dealing with them is to zone out on drugs.

Locke Meredith: So what do we do?

Kathleen Richey: Well I think we have to have a multi-systemic approach. The child needs to learn how to handle problems differently than using drugs. We also need to have the family address the family’s issues in ways that will be healthy for them.

Locke Meredith: It’s a big problem. I don’t know how you solve all these things. I know there are some very sad situations that you have talked about but there are some wonderful ones also. I know that one of things that you love to do are the adoptions. Tell the folks about that.

Kathleen Richey: Adoptions are wonderful. We have a lot of private adoptions where families are able to create or complete their family with adopting an infant. One of the things that is the most rewarding is the final adoption of children that I have removed from the home of abusive families. We do have, a big chunk of my jurisdiction is child protection. I have had children that have been removed from an abusive family and with a lot of intervention and therapy and assistance have found a wonderful family and I have done the adoption. I have a collection of pictures from the adoptions of families of children that have been removed from abusive homes. My favorite is a infant that was found in a newspaper bag four hours after birth, in a ditch. That child was adopted and is healthy and happy. There is a child that I removed from the custody of the mother who was starving. Her mother was starving her. She only weighed about seventeen pounds and was in the hospital for about six weeks to have enough nutrition to be able to come out alive. Now she sends me school pictures every year. She’s been adopted by a loving family and is doing wonderful.

Locke Meredith: Wonderful job. The election is when?

Kathleen Richey: October fourth.

Locke Meredith: October fourth. You certainly have our support. Thank you so much. I appreciate all the work you are doing. This is Locke Meredith with Legal Lines. Kathleen Stewart Richey, Juvenile Court Judge. Thank You.

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