Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Report recommends uniform rules of procedure for Youth Courts

July 1, 2008

The Task Force for Youth Court Rules of Procedure on July 1 submitted its report and recommendations to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Clay County Youth Court Referee Thomas Storey of West Point, co-chair of the Task Force, said, “The main purpose of the recommendations is to mandate uniformity of all Youth Courts and to give practitioners a body of work which they can follow.”

The Mississippi Youth Court Act was passed in 1979. Other state statutes regarding juveniles are scattered throughout the Mississippi Code. There have been changes in federal law. However, there has never been one comprehensive set of rules to complement the statutes and guide judges, attorneys, social workers, law enforcement and others who deal with the interests of children.

Justice Mike Randolph of Hattiesburg, co-chair of the Task Force, presented a copy of the report and recommendations to Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr.

Justice Randolph said, “I encouraged the members of the Task Force to address the responsibility before them, keeping in mind the best interests of the persons who would appear in the Youth Courts. I am pleased to report that the recommendations being submitted to the Supreme Court reflect that the Task Force admirably met this goal.”

Abuse and neglect of juveniles, as well as delinquent acts committed by juveniles, are matters within the jurisdiction of the Youth Court. The structure of the Youth Court varies across the state, and practices vary by jurisdiction. In the 20 counties which have a County Court, those judges also serve as Youth Court judges. In counties which do not have a County Court, the Chancery Judge appoints a lawyer to act in a judicial capacity as Youth Court Referee, or in a few counties, the Chancery Judge hears Youth Court cases. The city of Pearl has its own municipal Youth Court.

The Mississippi Supreme Court in an order signed by Chief Justice Smith on Oct. 22, 2007, created the Task Force and charged it with overseeing development of a set of uniform rules of procedure. The 12-member Task Force includes judges and representatives of the Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Education and the Administrative Office of Courts.

Judge Storey said, “It speaks well for the system that we are all interested in the protection of kids, and we have all worked together to improve the system.”

The Supreme Court called for the proposed rules to address state and federal statutes, case law and Department of Human Services policies. Some of the topics addressed by the proposed rules include:

• compliance with federal requirements regarding permanent placement of children removed from the custody of parents and placed in foster care;

• procedures for taking a child into custody on allegations of delinquent acts;

• detention and shelter hearings;

• incarceration of juveniles in detention centers;

• summonses to parents or other family members regarding Youth Court hearings;

• appointment of an attorney known as a guardian ad litem to represent the interest of a child;

• processes and forms for court orders, petitions, summonses and other Youth Court documents;

• exchange of information among parties, a legal process know as discovery, in Youth Court proceedings;

• the legal process, known as interstate compact, dealing with transfer of children from one state to another while under the protection of the Department of Human services or similar agency in another state;

• truancy of children and educational neglect by parents;

• placement of children who exhibit a need for mental health services.

The Mississippi Judicial College developed the proposed uniform rules. Judicial College Staff Attorney William Charlton of Oxford drafted the proposed rules, with extensive input from members of the Task Force. Charlton conducted a survey of judges, attorneys and others associated with the juvenile justice system; studied juvenile court rules in other states; and extensively reviewed state and federal statutes and case law.

Judge Storey said Charlton has “done a fantastic job” in creating a set of recommendations which could serve as a model for other states.

Justice Randolph said, “I would like to personally thank Judge Storey for his leadership and the Judicial College for their assistance, and I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t single out William Charlton for assuming primary draftsmanship as directed by the Task Force.”

The recommendations are a preliminary step. The Supreme Court has rule-making authority over all state courts. The four-member Supreme Court Rules Committee will review the Task Force recommendations and make its own recommendations to the entire nine-member court. The Supreme Court will then submit proposed rules for public comment. No time table has been set.

Chief Justice Smith expressed gratitude for the work of the Task Force “for what you have done for children and for litigants in the state of Mississippi.”

Other members of the Task Force include: Rankin County Court Judge Thomas H. Broome, Adams County Court Judge John N. Hudson, Forrest County Court Judge Michael W. McPhail, Department of Human Services officials Kate McMillin and Kathy Pittman, Department of Mental Health Executive Director Ed LeGrand, Department of Education officials Joy Milam and Steve Williams, Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Jamie McBride, and Administrative Office of Courts Project Manager Dennis Perkins.