Judge Norman Backes
Justice Mary Muehlen Maring
Judge Everett Nels Olson
Judge Debbie Kleven
Judge Bruce Romanick
Tara Muhlhauser, UND, Children and Family Services
Judge Backes called the meeting to order and welcomed new members Justice Mary Muehlen Maring, Judge Debbie Kleven, and State's Attorney Bruce Romanick.
Judge Backes called on Greg Wallace to review the legislation resulting from the 2001 legislative session.
Greg Wallace brought the Board's attention to House Bill 1267 which relates to sharing of information between schools, law enforcement, and the courts. The bill resulted from a series of conferences that took place over the fall of 2000 which had been sponsored by Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. The conferences included representatives from schools, law enforcement, and juvenile courts. Without exception, the number one problem identified by participants was conflicting state and federal confidentiality regulations which, in the opinion of the participants, stood in the way of agencies working with each other. The Board was reminded that they had endorsed the original version of the bill which would have allowed the juvenile courts to share information with the schools which the court officer thought appropriate. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, expressed concern with opening the records to that extent. It was pointed out that law enforcement could share any information with the school, thus a juvenile might be charged with burglary by the police and reported as such. The juvenile court could not report to the school that the charge had been dismissed or lowered. After negotiation, the bill was modified to allow court officers to notify schools if the child appeared to pose a danger to the school, students, or staff.
Judge Backes asked if the determination was to be factually based with a finding or subjective. The bill does not call for a factual determination and is therefore subjective. Members expressed concern that this has the potential of opening court officers up to litigation. Noting that the court officers should be protected, the board asked that a policy requiring an order from the court be drafted.
The Board then discussed House Bill 1386. The bill removes the juvenile court from decisions where parents are placing children for mental health reasons. Under current law, if federal medicare dollars are used the parents need to get a judicial determination that such a placement is in the best interest of the child. This bill removes that requirement.
Senate Bill 2446 will require the juvenile court to conduct a risk assessment on certain sexual offenders who remain in the community. The bill requires the Attorney General to adopt one statewide risk assessment in consultation with the juvenile courts, amongst others.
Senate Bill 2116 changes possession of tobacco by minors over 14 years of age to a non-criminal fee offense. Cities are permitted to pass ordinances giving the municipal court jurisdiction. If a juvenile is cited in an area not covered by a city ordinance, the district court will have jurisdiction over the cases. The fee is $25 paid through the clerk of court. The bill also prohibits placing a juvenile in jail for failing to pay the fee, but allows the court to impose community service hours.
House Bill 1358 was introduced with the approval of the Juvenile Policy Board. The law clarifies timeframes in handling juvenile court cases, modifies service requirements for absentee parents, and make some changes to "aggravated circumstances" language related to deprivation and termination cases. The bill will change the 30 day temporary custody order to a 96 hour order. The judge or referee can then issue a shelter care order for up to 60 days. However, the petition must be filed within 30 days or the child must be released. The bill also clarifies that the court can proceed with hearings while attempting to serve parents, in order to meet the new timeframes.
The Board then discussed the draft of juvenile court time standards that relate to House Bill 1358. It was explained that the Board had previously reviewed the time standards and agreed in concept to them. The standards will be presented to the Board at the June meeting for action.
If adopted by the Supreme Court, the formal juvenile court cases will be brought under docket currency standards. The standards will necessitate districts looking at their practices in order to meet the standards. Greg Wallace reported that the most common barriers to meeting timeframes are last minute requests for an attorney, availability of defense counsel, timeliness of petitions, and service of process.
Judge Backes and Mary Hall reported on the changes that have been made in the East Central judicial district. In this biennium, the juvenile defense contract was split from the criminal, eliminating a lot of scheduling conflicts, and overcoming many of the problems relating to availability of counsel.
Additionally, a lay guardian ad litem project was implemented. This relieves the attorney of much of the non-legal aspects of deprivation cases, and results in better services being provided. They are also getting the petition at the shelter care hearings. This allows service of process to be accomplished and allows the court to establish a scheduling order, putting everyone on notice of deadlines. The immediate filing of the petition and scheduling order were implemented on May 1, 2001. So far, things seem to be going well but adjustments will need to be made.
Judge Kleven reported that the Northeast Central judicial district is looking at practices relating to the proposed timeframes, including having firms designate a juvenile attorney. They are also looking at service issues and scheduling orders.
The Board then reviewed a proposed policy relating to signing petitions. The proposed policy would prohibit court officers from signing most petitions. The basis for the policy comes from two sources:
a. The philosophical belief that the juvenile courts should not be involved in the prosecution of cases. Therefore, the state's attorney or other person bringing the charges forward should sign the petition; and
b. The cost of prosecution witnesses. By law, the supreme court is responsible for defense related costs, but not prosecution. We ran into a problem with a witness for the state's attorney. The juvenile supervisor had signed the petition so the state's attorney argued that the witness had been called at the request of the court. He further argued that juvenile court cases are civil and not criminal so the juvenile court should pay for witnesses. It is our position that the court can not pay for witnesses for the prosecution. To clarify this, the state's attorney should sign the petition and control all witness related matters.
After discussion, JUDGE OLSON MOVED THAT THE POLICY BE DISTRIBUTED FOR COMMENT. MARY HALL SECONDED THE MOTION AND THE MOTION PASSED.
The Board then reviewed the Juvenile Court Implementation Plan: 1999-2001 Biennium. Greg Wallace stated that the goals and objective statements in the document show that the juvenile courts have accomplished a lot in the last biennium, including implementing a statewide information system, statewide tracking services, electronic monitoring, and offender accountability conferences. While much has been accomplished, much needs to be done. Perhaps the juvenile courts have taken on too much and it maybe time to follow Minnesota's example and determine some core or best practices that need to be developed from the goal statements as implemented in each court. Greg also felt the juvenile courts need to move toward "outcome based" services, where the effects of programs and decisions are more carefully measured. In the past, the juvenile court officers have developed the strategic plan and forwarded the plan to the Board. It was suggested, however, that in updating the plan for the upcoming biennium that a task force of juvenile court directors and court officers go through the planning process and that the Juvenile Policy Board be invited to participate. It was the consensus of the Board that they would like to be part of the planning process. Staff was directed to find a date in September and late fall for the session in order to get on the judge's calendar and allow participation.
The Board then discussed developing a risk/needs assessment for the juvenile court. The implementation of such an instrument was identified as a priority objective in the current plan. Greg Wallace proposed that a small task force of court officers look at instruments that are currently available and select one for piloting in North Dakota. He explained that he had spoken with Keithe Nelson about contracting with UND for help in determining the validity of the instrument as applied to North Dakota. After discussion, staff was directed to proceed with selecting a risk assessment tool under that concept.
Tara Muhlhauser then reported on the implementation of a model guardian ad litem project in the East Central and Northeast Central judicial districts. The model involves using lay guardians ad litem in conjunction with attorney guardians ad litem to use the skills of both as most appropriate. She explained that the lay guardians ad litem in the two regions had a minimum of a bachelor's degree and had to complete a minimum of 18 hours of training. The responsibility of recruiting, training, and supervising the lay guardians ad litem had been outsourced and is currently being carried out by the Children and Family Services Training Center at UND. The results from the pilot sites have been favorable from the perspective of all participants to this point. There have, of course, been specific incidents that have caused concern, but, to her best knowledge, those incidents were addressed.
Greg Wallace reported that at the initial presentation on indigent defense budgets, he had proposed that the program be phased in statewide and that money from the Department of Human Services relating to ASFA be used to pay for lay guardians ad litem. This will free indigent defense funds for contract counsel and free counsel from non-legal duties.
The Board discussed the program at length with Ms. Muhlhauser and how it differed from the duties of the custody investigations in domestic cases. Terra expressed concern with the current system of custody investigations. She felt that there is very little supervision of these individuals and little support when they have questions. She is less concerned with lay guardians ad litem in the juvenile court.
Having no further business, the meeting was adjourned.