Kids' night court is set

Juvenile authorities plan monthly sessions in pilot program

`Try it at least 6 months'

Evening hours to ease school, work conflicts, limit need for 2nd day

November 18, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Beginning next year, Carroll County juvenile authorities will hold night court once a month, enabling witnesses and parents of offenders to attend hearings without missing work.

Carroll's pilot program will be the only one of its kind in Maryland and will replace a daytime delinquency docket the third Thursday of each month, said Peter M. Tabatsko, county juvenile master. Night court will begin Jan. 20.

Tabatsko called the program an experiment, one that will mean juggling work schedules and perhaps paying overtime. Hearings will begin at 6 p.m., and an average docket should take about three hours.

"We'll try it for at least six months and see what effect it has," Tabatsko said. "We may expand it if it's successful."

Authorities hope that in some instances, such as truancy cases, hearings -- preliminary, adjudication and disposition -- can be resolved in one sitting, rather than two or three.

"We have no other state juvenile courts operating at night," said Bob Kannenberg, a spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

The potential benefits of night court are many, officials said.

"When parents have to miss work to attend court with a child, often only one comes," Tabatsko said. "It's also a great inconvenience for witnesses to miss work, once for a preliminary hearing and once for the adjudication.

"Sometimes, disposition has to be deferred and everyone returns three times," he said. "And having hearings at night also means a child won't have to miss school."

Absence from school is an important consideration because most county high schools operate on a condensed schedule in which major subjects are taught in 90-minute, every-other-day sessions, he said.

"Missing one day [of school] is like missing two, since everything is so condensed," he said.

When the idea for night court was recently broached to Raymond E. Beck Sr., administrative judge for Carroll's Circuit Court, he said, "Go for it," Tabatsko said.

Prosecutors, caseworkers from the Department of Juvenile Justice, attorneys, court clerks and bailiffs have embraced the plan, the juvenile master said.

An average docket 11 years ago, when Tabatsko was appointed juvenile master, consisted of about 35 cases a month. Now that many are heard in a day.

"Thirty-five cases on each daily docket is not uncommon now," said Tabatsko, who is pleased agencies are eager to try night court, considering the operational changes involved.

"It's encouraging that they are willing to try innovative things," he said.

The juvenile master routinely hears delinquency cases Mondays and Thursdays. He sits for Child in Need of Assistance cases Tuesdays and domestic cases Wednesdays and reserves Fridays for spillover cases or lengthy hearings involving many witnesses.

Officials also hope night court will ease the overall caseload.

Tabatsko could not provide statistics on the number of cases he handles. He said he has asked the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide 1999 figures early next year.

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