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OBA Creates New Juvenile Law Section

Recognizing that juvenile law hasn’t been “kiddie law” for many years, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children (OLFC) petitioned OBA members at the November OBA Annual Meeting to create an OBA Juvenile Law Section. Literally within hours of drafting a petition and visiting with OBA members from across the state, practitioners, judges and OBA delegates alike recognized the need for a juvenile law section, and OLFC gathered well over the requisite number of required signatures to present the petition to the Board of Governors for consideration. Former OBA President Cathy Christensen was as enthusiastic as 2013 OBA President Jim Stuart to welcome the new Juvenile Law Section to the OBA upon its approval at the Board of Governors’ December meeting.

HOW TO JOIN

Already paid your 2013 OBA dues? Or you’re not a lawyer and want to become an associate member? Use the section enrollment form. The $15 dues may be paid by check or credit card. Not yet paid your OBA dues? Adding section membership is easy when you pay dues online at My.OkBar.org.

“I can’t believe we finally have an OBA section to bring focus to the areas of juvenile deprived, delinquent and youthful offenders that so desperately need attention by our profession!” were the comments from Sue Tate, director, and Felice Hamilton, program coordinator for the Court Improvement Program, Administrative Office of the Courts, Supreme Court of Oklahoma. “A section of the OBA has long been needed to validate the work of the practitioners who tirelessly give their time and talent to the vast numbers of abused, neglected, deprived and disadvantaged children in our state who are entitled by statute to legal representation in order to have the same access to justice as adult citizens, but more so than any other population, because they are children, they have must have a legal voice,” said Tsinena Thompson, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children president and CEO.

The purpose of the section is to serve as a focal point for legal issues in the areas of juvenile deprived, delinquent and youthful offender law, and the pro bono organizations known as Oklahoma Lawyers for Children (OLFC) and Tulsa Lawyers for Children (TLC), its volunteers and organizational activities that affect children in DHS custody; assess current legal services available to juveniles; determine where gaps in legal services exist; improve the administration of justice in the field of juvenile law by study, conferences and publication or reports, service and articles with respect to both legislation and administration in all matters connected herewith; and to promote and support OLFC and TLC’s pro bono programs in the area of juvenile law and the legal needs of juveniles in the state of Oklahoma.

The juvenile law arena today consists of many players. Practitioners must be familiar with the Juvenile Code as set forth in Titles 10 and 10A, and its relation to other statutes involving children, wards of the state and youthful offenders. Unlike the family law courtrooms, DHS workers, therapists, medical personnel and CASAs who are not legal practitioners appear for routine daily hearings and much to the horror of many a civil or family law practitioner, offer hearsay statements and reports to the court that are accepted without or over objection. This informality is permissible in certain juvenile hearings, but because of its more informal nature, practitioners must be carefully trained and qualified to protect the innocent child victim who may be too young to even communicate while also endeavoring to ensure equal justice and fair treatment to the accused.

The interplay of DHS policy with the nebulous “best interests of the child” can present quite a trap for the unwary whether the practitioner is representing a child victim, parents, guardians, other caregiver or a youthful offender. “Juvenile law today can be a complicated as multi-party civil litigation or class actions, and a Juvenile Law Section has been needed to bring cohesiveness and consistency to this area of the law throughout our state,” Ms. Thompson said. Many counties appoint local attorneys to represent children. Unfortunately, many of these practitioners in outer lying counties have not been able to attend OLFC’s specialized Juvenile Law CLEs which have been primarily offered in Oklahoma City. TLC recently began offering CLE, but one of this section’s goals is to make those trainings available to practitioners and others throughout the state.  

MEMBERSHIP

Any OBA member in good standing who enrolls and pays the $15 annual dues may become a member. Any full-time member or retired state member of the judiciary may become a member and will not be required to pay dues. Because there are so many other non-lawyer “players” in juvenile court, associate membership in the OBA Juvenile Law Section is open to any other persons who by reason of their enrollment in law school, their profession or occupation or other demonstrable interest in section activities may become associate members. Associate members enroll and pay annual dues, but they may not vote or hold office in the section.

Section organizers hope to have a broad representation of section membership so that the many problems that have plagued Oklahoma’s children can be assessed, recognized, addressed and corrected to the best of its ability. “We have lofty goals, but what is more important than protecting the children of our state?” said the new section’s Interim Chairperson Tsinena Thompson. “These children are among the most vulnerable citizens today, the workforce and parents of tomorrow and are the future of our state. How can this not be among the most important issues facing our state today?”

FIRST MEETING

The section’s first meeting will be scheduled in March at which time nominations and voting to elect section committee chairs will be among the order of business.

All business, recommendations for committee chairs or other section interests should be directed to Interim Chair Tsinena Thompson or by mail to Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, 4901 Richmond Square, Suite 101, Oklahoma City, OK 73118 or by fax 405-842-8822.