February 12, 2009 14:53 Age: 5 yrs

Barton Clinic Helps Lead Effort to Rewrite Georgia’s Juvenile Code

Emory Law’s Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic is playing a lead role in a historic initiative for Georgia’s children—the passage of a new juvenile code. Through its work with JUSTGeorgia, a statewide coalition advocating for fairness in Georgia’s juvenile justice and social service systems, the Barton Clinic is turning hard work into reality.

“Georgia has a rare opportunity to comprehensively update the laws affecting our most vulnerable children,” says Karen Worthington 94L, founding director of the Barton Clinic.

JUSTGeorgia, established in 2006 with a grant from the Sapelo Foundation, combines the resources of the Barton Clinic, the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and Voices for Georgia’s Children. Recognizing a need for juvenile justice reform in Georgia, the organization is spearheading an effort to propose a new juvenile code during the 2009 General Assembly.

The juvenile code refers to Title 15 of the Official Code of Georgia, which governs juvenile court matters such as delinquency, child abuse and neglect. The current code, introduced in 1971, has gone through a number of changes, leaving it vague and outdated.

The initial push to revise the code began four years ago, prior to the establishment of JUSTGeorgia. Former Barton Clinic director and then-president of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges Robin Nash 78L challenged the State Bar of Georgia’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) to take on the project.

The YLD’s first step was to create a “model” for how the code should look and function. Leading this effort were Barton Clinic alumna Soledad McGrath 02L, Professor Lucy McGough 66L of Louisiana State University, and Judge Velma Tilley of the Bartow County Juvenile Court.

“The goal when drafting the model code was to incorporate national best practices with what’s best for Georgia’s children, without being constrained by political realities,” said Beth Reimels 01L, Barton Clinic policy and advocacy director.

By March 2008, the YLD released its proposed model juvenile code.

“The Young Lawyers Division’s proposed model code is based on four years of methodical study of the laws of all fifty states, consultation with the nation’s leading children’s law experts,and solid evidence-based research,”Worthington said. “It is exciting to know that Georgia could create a legal system truly designed for the best interests of the children it serves.

”Concurrently, Georgia Appleseed, led by executive director Sharon Hill 85L, conducted hundreds of interviews with key stakeholders—juvenile court judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, elected officials, parents,and educators—to gather input on the current juvenile code. “Common Wisdom: Making the Case for a New Georgia Juvenile Code,” published in November, summarizes the input.

Armed with the proposed model code and the stakeholder feedback, representatives from JUSTGeorgia, including Reimels, began drafting the legislative package for the Georgia General Assembly. This process provided Barton Clinic students an opportunity to write and contribute to new legislation.

Established at Emory Law in 2000, the Barton Clinic is dedicated to ensuring safety, well-being and permanency for neglected, abused and court-involved children in Georgia. The clinic provides multidisciplinary, child-focused research, training and support for practitioners and policymakers charged with protecting Georgia’s youth.

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