2022 Year End Update
Another great year with The Office of the Juvenile Defender (OJD) is coming to an end. This year, we gained a new Project Attorney, created and provided new trainings both in-person and virtually, started back traveling across the state to observe court, and began creating a new process through the First-Degree Murder Appointment Project.
In 2021, OJD received two grants awards that expanded the work of our office. One grant award from the Governor’s Crime Commission (GCC) funds the NC Defender Raise the Age Program and focuses on efforts to educate, train, and assist defenders and stakeholders on Raise the Age changes, developments, and implementation. Our second grant award funded by the National Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) funds the NC Juvenile Defense Equal Access Project and works to provide training, technical assistance, and resources to all defenders throughout the state with a focus on rural jurisdictions. In March of 2022, OJD welcomed Yolanda Fair as the new Project Attorney, taking the reins from Austine Long who served in the role from 2019-2021. Prior to joining OJD, Yolanda was an Assistant Public Defender for eight and a half years with the Buncombe County Public Defender’s Office where she represented both youth and adults during her time in that role. Yolanda resides and works in Asheville. Yolanda both created a plan to better organize OJD’s core duties and manages the grant. OJD’s core duties were organized through the grant deliverables including training, new resources, court observations and technical assistance.
Throughout the year, OJD continued providing virtual training and covered the costs of CLE credit for topics such as Case Law Updates, Digital Evidence, Military Collateral Consequences, Sex Offender Registry Issues, and Juvenile Capacity Evaluations. Some trainings had special presenters including Assistant Appellate Defender David Andrews and forensic psychologist Dr. Sean Knuth. OJD also partnered with Disability Rights of North Carolina to provide a training on schools’ obligations for youth with disabilities. One update to virtual trainings was the creation of our Virtual Webinar Series. With this series, OJD continued providing virtual trainings but held them once a month. OJD also created an upcoming training calendar so that defenders could register in advance for the virtual series. OJD also presented alongside the School of Government, the Southern Juvenile Defender Summit, and the NC Bar Association. Our in-person trainings continued as well as we brought specific trainings to counties by request of the local bar or when a specific need was identified in that area.
With the new OJJDP grant, Yolanda began to plan a new OJD Annual training that we affectionately named the Youth Defender Forums, with identical substantive training topics in the Eastern, Western, and Central part of the state, at locations not usually selected. Held in Morganton, Kinston, and Asheboro respectively, this was a great opportunity to not only provide training, but to create community and introduce local attorneys in each part of the state to each other. Each forum featured a local defender as part of the presentation team, and the forums struck a balance between presentation of important information and discussion amongst all the attendees of topics and questions affecting their local bars. Each forum also provided for an extended lunch break to allow for ample opportunities for defenders to get to know each other and build the local defender communities.
In total, OJD completed 33 trainings. This number includes a combination of our virtual, local in-person, and Youth Defender Forum trainings. The map below shows attendance at our trainings; participants came from every corner of our state this year. 127 people participated in our virtual trainings this year, with many participants attending multiple trainings. At our Youth Defender Forums, OJD trained 74 attorneys throughout the state. And with our county-specific and other OJD sponsored in-person trainings, OJD trained 31 attorneys. In 2023, OJD plants to continue to offer virtual, in-person, and Youth Defender Forum trainings to reach defenders statewide and provide quality training statewide.
This year, OJD created a new Juvenile 101 Quick Guide, region-specific resource sheets, and a brand-new Resource Guide that acts as an orientation to Juvenile Delinquency work and provides contact information and descriptions on important services that can aid in delinquency court. We have now published 8 Quick Guides and the series has been handed out at in-person trainings, with over 1500 Quick Guides in the hands of attorneys statewide, and they are hosted on the Defender Portal on the OJD website as well. Additionally, as a feature of our Youth Defender Forums, OJD also created a region-specific resource sheet that outlined all available Department of Juvenile Justice placement options and contacts in the region.
As the effects of the pandemic subsided and courthouses returned back to normal operation throughout 2022, OJD also returned to visiting courtrooms across the state. In 2022, we were able to visit 20 courtrooms in person. As we observe court in each county, we look for new innovations from juvenile defenders as well as opportunities to provide support, assistance, and training. We have conversations with defenders and stakeholders to better understand each jurisdiction and to ask if they have any specific requests for training or support.
While OJD has always been available to defenders and stakeholders for technical assistance with cases or other policy-related issues, we have started making a concerted effort to track the number of consultations we are providing as part of the grant metrics. In 2022, OJD has consulted with over 162 attorneys and over 35 stakeholders on issues affecting the delinquency courtrooms, young clients, and other similar juvenile justice topics.
In early 2022, IDS transitioned from unit-based and monthly-payment-based contracts for defenders to a Managed Assigned Counsel (“MAC”) system. Under the MAC system, contracting attorneys will be paid on an hourly basis at the end of each month upon submission of that month’s hours. Almost all attorneys with a juvenile delinquency representation contract have renewed their contract with OJD and IDS to continue their representation under this new MAC system. As part of the process in implementing the MAC system, Cumberland County juvenile delinquency court was identified for piloting the new MAC system and four new contracts were awarded there. Yadkin County transitioned to the MAC system early. One new contract was awarded in Iredell County to pilot the MAC system there. Mitchell County reached out to OJD expressing a need for a contract attorney. OJD advertised a contract under the MAC system for Mitchell County and the attorney awarded the contract will begin work January 1, 2023. The remaining contractors transitioned to the MAC system, which officially began December 1, 2022.
First Degree Murder Appointment Project
In 2021, OJD identified a need to reconsider the manner in which attorneys were selected and appointed to youth charged with first degree murder, largely in non-public defender districts. Former Assistant Juvenile Defender Kim Howes laid the groundwork for basic concepts and goals. OJD then began a two-track process. First, OJD is currently assisting on these cases by helping identify attorneys and providing resources and tools. Simultaneously, OJD is preparing for direct appointment authority by recruiting potential attorneys, developing forms and procedures, and working with stakeholders on goals and challenges. OJD has presented to the IDS Commission several times and hopes to gain approval in 2023 with direct appointment happening within the year.
Other New Initiatives
New in 2022, OJD has shifted our summary and presentation of new appellate opinions from our previous cumulative and evolving Word Document format to a blog-based format with searchable hashtags and brief summaries. The Word format was becoming cumbersome to navigate and obsolete in its format, so OJD made the choice to update its summary format and incorporate new case summaries, along with outside perspectives and commentary of appellate cases, in a new “Case Law Corner” post once a month in the OJD Blog.
Burcu Hensley and Terri Johnson continue their direct representation in Wake County and Iredell/Alexander County, respectively. Their presence in the courtroom not only assists OJD in the observation of juvenile defense practices but continues to be a supporting and learning presence for juvenile defense attorneys. Burcu takes mainly felony cases, particularly cases that are at high risk of transfer to Superior Court, as well as some conflict misdemeanor cases, and transferred disposition cases specifically assigned to her by the Chief Juvenile Public Defender in Wake County. Terri represents youth for all level offenses in Iredell and Alexander and cases are assigned to her by the individual assistant clerks in the respective counties.
OJD continues to find ways to better serve juvenile defenders and the youth they represent.The structure of court observations, technical assistance, and trainings that will unfold in 2023 will focus our efforts, and hopefully ultimately lead to better outcomes for youth.