MORE THAN 130 LAWYERS from 10 Atlanta firms attended a training session Monday that is part of a major volunteer effort to overhaul the Georgia Juvenile Code, enacted in 1971 as O.C.G.A. § 15-11.

Sharon N. Hill, the executive director of Georgia Appleseed, which sponsored the training at King & Spalding, said that over the years many amendments have turned the state’s juvenile code, which addresses delinquency, deprivation and status offenses, into “a patchwork quilt that now has internal inconsistencies, is inconsistent with federal law, is silent in some areas where explicit guidance would be helpful and explicit where silence would be preferable.”

At times, the code is unclear and does not reflect best current practices in juvenile justice, said Hill, who was a Fulton Juvenile Court associate judge before joining Georgia Appleseed in November. “I said to myself on the bench every day for eight-and-a-half years, ‘Why are we doing it this way?’”

Her organization has joined the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Georgia, the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic and Voices for Georgia’s Children in the effort, begun three years ago by the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, which was authorized by the General Assembly to write a model juvenile code for the state.

To her knowledge, Hill said, no other state has performed such a comprehensive update of its juvenile code.

She said the Georgia Appleseed volunteers, numbering about 170 lawyers, will contact stakeholders around the state for their input. “If we produce information that’s balanced, intelligent and comprehensive, we believe we can make change that will benefit the state, its children and families,” she said.

Ten Atlanta law firms have agreed to interview juvenile court judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, child advocate attorneys, Division of Family & Children Services attorneys and other stakeholders in each of the state’s 10 judicial districts.

They are: Alston & Bird; Arnall Golden Gregory; Hunton & Williams; Jones Day; Kilpatrick Stockton; King & Spalding; McKenna Long & Aldridge; Smith, Gambrell & Russell; Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan; and Troutman Sanders, in partnership with Southern Co.’s legal department.

Other participating firms are: Ashe, Rafuse & Hill; Balch & Bingham; Holland & Knight; Rome’s Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson and Davis; and Savannah’s Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams. Georgia Legal Services Program is providing input on stakeholders to interview. For more information, contact Hill at shill@gaappleseed.org.

SOURCE: Fulton County Daily Report