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OJD 2021 Year in Review



It's that time again, OJD's Annual Year in Review. We want to thank everyone and anyone who has contributed to the office this year, whether that be attending a CLE, presenting at a CLE, or reaching out to the office for our help. Thank you tremendously for all that you do and we hope you enjoy rounding up the year with us.


As 2021 closes another chapter, The Office of the Juvenile Defender (OJD) is highlighting our year as an office. The past 365 days have been filled again with a change in staff, new trainings, updated legislation, and the implementation of Senate Bill 207, or Raise the Age Part II while also adjusting to “the new normal”. OJD worked tirelessly to prepare juvenile defense attorneys for all the changes that came.


Raise the Age Changes

December 1, 2021, saw the implementation of new legislation regarding Raise the Age. These changes included prosecutorial discretion, mental health assessment requirements, and a raise in the minimum age of juvenile jurisdiction. With Covid-19 still ever-present, OJD has continued to provide general counseling on trial and appellate RTA issues, focused on specific issues such as indictment and bonds, and challenging automatic transfers.


Training

OJD continued providing live webinar CLEs and for the first half of 2021, covering the CLE costs for attending attorneys. Topics included: Representing LGBTQ Clients, School Interrogations, Senate Bill 207. OJD also presented at Southern Juvenile Defender Center and Public Defender Conferences.

The effect of Covid-19 continued to linger in 2021 which required the use of webinars instead of in-person training, however, Terri Johnson was able to visit Cabarrus county to present on Raise the Age Part II and SB207. These trainings are available upon request for defense attorneys who would like to watch or review. At this time, no CLE is provided for recorded trainings. OJD hopes to start traveling across the state to present in person in the new year.


Grant-Funded Support

In 2021, OJD was again awarded grant funding, first from the Governor’s Crime Commission and then from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). These funds will augment OJD’s training, technical support, and community-building efforts in rural counties and other underserved areas.


Resources

Closing out the 2018 OJJDP grant, OJD was able to undertake a complete overhaul of the official OJD website. The new website includes an enhanced experience from usability to an updated Defender Portal. The Defender Portal houses forms, motions, and recorded CLEs for review and tips for court and is password protected. LaTobia continued to produce Quick Guides and with the help of Austine, mailed out over 1000 to defense attorneys across the state. Along with the Quick Guides, LaTobia and Austine also mailed over 100 2020 Juvenile Codes to defense attorneys for free, to show our continued appreciation of the work these attorneys do every day.


Contracts

2021 brought changes with contractors in several counties. OJD worked with individual counties and districts to locate qualified attorneys to fill positions in Yadkin, Yancey, Madison, and Harnett counties. Additionally, contracts were renewed with all other existing contract positions.


New Staff

In the middle of 2021, OJD brought staff changes to the office. The 2018 OJJDP grant ended and with that, Project Attorney Austine Long completed her work. In the 2 years, she was with OJD, Austine created new ideas and sources of information OJD uses today and continues to provide thought and feedback to the office.

Kim Howes transitioned from her role as Assistant Juvenile Defender to an OJD consulting attorney in July. With her departure from the office, OJD began to recruit for a new Assistant Juvenile Defender. After screening and interviewing candidates, Burcu Hensley was brought on and began working in September.

Burcu Hensley is a 2012 Campbell University Law graduate who focused on criminal defense work at her private practice, Hensley Law Firm. In 2016 she became a contract attorney in Yadkin and Madison counties. She brings juvenile and superior court experience and fresh ideas to OJD.


New Initiatives

Being aware of the growing need for attorneys for accessibility of resources at a moment’s notice, OJD is leveraging technology to assist OJD in becoming the “go-to” resource for juvenile defense. To do so, the office began to record Tips of the Weeks, produce small training videos for quick view and began working on a series of video podcasts discussing various juvenile topics. OJD hopes to expand these ventures with guests from across the state and shed light on issues that may not be talked about enough.

OJD has also implemented new initiatives via the OJD social media pages. With the creation of the OJD LinkedIn page, defenders are now engaging on topics presented during Tuesday Thoughts. These insightful questions posed by OJD allow defenders to see how their colleagues handle situations such as racial disparity, mental health assessments, resources, and court procedures.


Direct Representation

Assistant Juvenile Defender Terri Johnson continues to provide direct representation to juveniles in the Iredell and Alexander County delinquency system. Her presence in the courtroom allows for observation of juvenile defense practices, as well as being a source of information and support for public defenders, contractors, and privately assigned counsel. She brings OJD timely and useful information to create training and resources for issues evolving within the juvenile court system while giving a firsthand account of the necessary changes to improve juvenile court. Burcu will be joining Terri in direct representation in the new year.


Moving Forward

After implementation of RTA OJD observed that youth charged with first-degree murder in juvenile court were faced with difficult appointments and other logistical hurdles. To address this and work to ensure quality representation for the most serious of charges, OJD is investigating creating a roster of eligible attorneys to be directly appointed to these youth. Kim Howes has been gathering data and information to develop a plan for direct appointment, possibly to be implemented in 2022 after consideration and approval.


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