“It’s time to quit playing games and focus on the issues, fixing what’s wrong with Juvenile Court,” said Michael Todd, an organizer of a group called Men For Henri Brooks.
Brooks wants to be Juvenile Court Clerk. Now that the Shelby County Commission has voted to accept a recent Chancery Court ruling that the commission’s move to oust her was based on flimsy evidence alluding to her not living in the district, supporters such as Todd are shifting into full-speed-ahead gear.
With early voting set to begin July 18th at the Election Commission office Downtown and July 21st at the satellite sites, Todd has swiftly corralled more than 50 community members so far.
“And we need more. We are hoping to fill a minimum of five buses on the first day of early voting. We’re fighting to keep the public, and especially the African-American community focused on her message. We need to redirect our focus.”
Janis Banks, Brooks’ campaign manager, amplified on the Chancery Court ruling.
“The judge ruled that the county cannot move to fill her seat because there has been no vacancy proven. They now have to convene a proceeding to prove whether she voluntarily removed her residence from the district.”
Brooks has less than two months before she will be retired from her seat after serving the maximum terms allowed each commissioner. Fellow commissioner Terry Roland pushed the assertion that Brooks lives in Cordova rather than her commission district most vociferously.
Telling county Attorney Ginny Bozeman, “I think you need to do some more work,” Chancellor Kenny W. Armstrong ruled that the commission must hold a thorough investigation before it could declare the seat vacant and move to fill it.
“You have to ask where are they engaging in these current actions. It’s about the Juvenile Court Clerk’s race,” said Banks. “The commissioner has exposed constitutional violations and there are activities going on at the court that some people there are afraid to be brought out about child support payments, how money is still being taken out of fathers’ checks after payment orders have been terminated, why are so many juveniles being transported ending up at 201 Poplar (the Criminal Justice Center) and much, much more.”
Brooks has hammered away on the theme that the office needs to be more accountable.
“People wander around seeking information and too many of the officials there just sit and watch. People are already intimidated when they go down there, so I want to make it more user friendly. And it’s important to treat all people seeking information with dignity and respect.”
Juvenile Court’s Chief Administrative Officer Larry Scroggs says change is underway. He pointed to one program in particular that he said was in motion before the Department of Justice determined – after a prolonged push for intervention by Brooks – that Juvenile Court was not providing children due process, had racial disparities in the administration of justice and was responsible for confinement procedures that were unsafe.
Scroggs said he and Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person found themselves on the same page while in the state legislature in the 80s.
“Once he took the office here we began working toward implementation of these thoughts. The prime example of that was the adoption of the Foster Care Permanency Claiming Act. He was the Senate sponsor and I was the House sponsor in 1998. It was instrumental in changing the time it took to have children placed in foster care.”
According to Scroggs, “Presently, the best way to put it is that we have partial compliance. That means you have a policy and practice in place but you haven’t done it long enough. We’re five years in so far. For instance, collecting and reporting data has proven extremely difficult. It is a work in progress.”
It is important to note, said Scroggs, that when the court requested additional funding from the Shelby County Commission to implement some of the changes, including costs for the reporting software, Brooks was among those who did not support funding increases to do so.
“Before the findings were released I had begun to reach out to the Annie Casey Foundation concerning their Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) to have Memphis and Shelby County included. JDAI focuses on reducing the number of kids detained so only the most serious offenders are detained,” said Scroggs.
“It took me three years to get the designation, which was finally granted in January 2012. It’s in about 39 states and 200 districts. They made some exploration on the state level but found they couldn’t get any traction in middle and east Tennessee. So they came back to us and designated the juvenile court here as a national model for the state, with the goal of expanding it to the rest of the state, if we are successful here. I think that was a huge achievement.”
Scroggs says that at the same time the court sought and was granted accreditation by the American Correctional Association. “We’re the only publicly operated detention center in the state to have the designation.”
A third development, Scroggs said, “was that we were one of twelve courts engaged in the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges Model Court program. So as I think about your question (of how Brooks’ decade-long crusade spurred positive changes), it seems to me clear that external pressure and concern meshed with internal desire and interest in reaching for those things. We recognized that those three things dealt with the basis of juvenile justice.”
And, said Scroggs, “In 2009 we engaged with the administrative departments of the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Department of Children Services and the American Bar Association to focus upon dependency and care and foster children. It took about nine months, maybe a year, leading to us revamping our foster care review system. We went from one board that operated intermittently to 21 boards with over 200 volunteer members. We greatly needed improvement in that area.”
Although there is no argument that Brooks clearly was a source of “external pressure” for change at Juvenile Court, Scroggs noted the affect of a change in presidential administrations.
“When the Obama administration came in, it went forward,” he said.