Sunday, April 14, 2019

Redmond Youth Court: A new legal program to educate teens

Youth court will address traffic infractions given to 16 and 17 year olds. 


  • by
  • Redmond Reporter

  • Thursday, April 11, 2019 1:42pm
It was the Michael Connelly books his grandfather gave him that first created 17-year-old Bouke Spoelstra’s interest in law.
Among those shared was “The Lincoln Lawyer.” It tells the story of a Los Angeles lawyer who practiced out of his Lincoln Town Car.
But it was his active participation in a youth court in Bothell that deepened Spoelstra’s infatuation with law, he said. And ultimately these pieces led to Spoelstra pushing for Redmond to start its own youth court program.
“I think a lot of the time, teenagers especially can perceive the judicial system in a way that it’s simply dishing out punishments that are sometimes negotiable but never avoidable, simply trying to hurt them,” Spoelstra said. “Obviously we know better…that there’s more to that story. And youth court is a way we can communicate that.”
Bothell Municipal Court judge Michelle Gehlson helped connect Spoelstra with King County District Court judge Michael Finkle, who worked alongside Spoelstra, students and others to develop the new court.
On April 8, the Redmond Youth Court officially launched — opening up a new avenue for handling traffic citations given by Redmond police to 16 and 17 year olds. It was about a year and two months in the works, Spoelstra said. Redmond’s youth-aimed court joins others around the county, including courts in Seattle, Bellevue, Bothell and Kirkland.
The Redmond Police Department and Redmond city prosecutor played a role in the court’s creation as well. The prosecutor helped shape the eligibility criteria and reviewed all proposed forms and the police department had representation at every planning meeting.
Studies done on recidivism rates at other youth courts in the state show that teens who have their infraction heard in youth court have a small likelihood to offend again. A look at the numbers of recidivism in the Seattle Youth Traffic Court shows that in 2012, in the court’s first year, the rate of recidivism was 0.17 percent. In 2014, it dropped down to 0.06 percent.
Margaret Fisher, the youth court coordinator for Washington, says positive peer pressure plays a role in the alternative court’s positive outcomes. This pressure comes from the youth court volunteers.
The student-led program works with King County District Court to hear real traffic cases and offers youth an alternative to the traditional courtroom setting. The cases are handled by the young offender’s peers who volunteer to play the roles of attorney, judge and jury members. Current volunteers hail from The Bear Creek School, Overlake School, Redmond High School and Bellevue Christian School. In addition, some volunteers are homeschooled students.
Officers will give young drivers who fall within the age parameters a card, Spoelstra said. On it will be a number to call or instructions on how to request a hearing in the Youth Court. Finkle, looking at specific cases, will determine if they’re eligible for being heard in Youth Court — which is planned to be held on Thursdays during late afternoons.
Studies done on recidivism rates at other youth courts in the state show that teens who have their infraction heard in youth court have a small likelihood to offend again. A look at the numbers of recidivism in the Seattle Youth Traffic Court shows that in 2012, in the court’s first year, the rate of recidivism was 0.17 percent. In 2014, it dropped down to 0.06 percent.
Margaret Fisher, the youth court coordinator for Washington, says positive peer pressure plays a role in the alternative court’s positive outcomes. This pressure comes from the youth court volunteers.
The student-led program works with King County District Court to hear real traffic cases and offers youth an alternative to the traditional courtroom setting. The cases are handled by the young offender’s peers who volunteer to play the roles of attorney, judge and jury members. Current volunteers hail from The Bear Creek School, Overlake School, Redmond High School and Bellevue Christian School. In addition, some volunteers are homeschooled students.
Officers will give young drivers who fall within the age parameters a card, Spoelstra said. On it will be a number to call or instructions on how to request a hearing in the Youth Court. Finkle, looking at specific cases, will determine if they’re eligible for being heard in Youth Court — which is planned to be held on Thursdays during late afternoons.
There are some offenses not eligible to be heard in the court. These include negligent driving in the second degree offenses, anything involving a collision, speeding in a school zone and passing a school bus while bus’s lights are flashing.
Operating under the tenants of restorative justice, after hearing the defendant’s story, the Youth Court will recommend a disposition that allows a teen to rebuild the same community that was harmed. Finkle will attend every gathering of the Youth Court and ultimately be the one to sign off on any action.
Creativity is the intent with the non-punishment punishment, given out to offenders. The court may decide the defendant should write a report on a police officer, gaining insight and respect for their role in the community. Or they may decide to have the person return to the Youth Court as a jury member.
“One thing that I strongly believe in as a judge…the court owes a duty to try to educate society so we don’t see people back,” Finkle said.
The court operates as a learning opportunity for all involved, Finkle said. The person who received the ticket has gone through the Youth Court process and everybody who has participated in the court — those who did not receive a ticket — have gone through that learning process as well.
“They’ll learn respect for the judicial system because they worked with people in it, not because they’re told they have to,” Finkle said. “They’ll be working with people who have explanations for their infractions, so they’ll learn there’s more than one side of things.”
And if a month comes during which there is no case to be heard, then a hypothetical scenario will be drafted and a mock hearing held, Finkle said.
“We’ll talk about what went into the decision of the mock hearing,” he said. “So, it’s really kind of learning experience for what goes into decision making and how do you factor certain things in?”
Spoelstra vocalized that he’s happy to share what he witnessed at Bothell’s Youth Court with those in Redmond.
“Youth Court gives teens a chance to rebuild trust in the community and make up for mistakes they’ve made,” Spoelstra said. “It’s something they may not have a chance to do if they’re simply paying a fine.”

Youth court student volunteers. Front row from left: Shreya Karnik, James Kung, Maria Pessoa. Back row from left: Emma Firminger, Josie Walsh, Bouke Spoelstra. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo
King County District Court Judge Michael Finkle will work alongside student volunteers to facilitate the Youth Court program. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo
King County District Court Judge Michael Finkle will work alongside student volunteers to facilitate the Youth Court program. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo













Sunday, March 10, 2019

IMPACT TEEN DRIVERS

Seattle Youth Traffic Court students met at Seattle University for an hour presentation on preparing to ask better questions and to consider more options for youth court traffic court dispositions.  Trainers from Sacramento, California provided valuable information through their presentation.




Sunday, October 21, 2018

YOUTH COURT UPDATES

Cheney Youth Court - "We have recruited pre-law students from University of Washington and other entities to help train our student with opening, closing and questioning". Terri Cooper - Coordinator

Shoreline Youth Court - "We are excited to have doubled the number of jurors serving on our youth court this year".  Youth Court Student

Bellevue Youth Court - "This year we have been able to broaden the scope of the types of cases that we hear". Youth Court Student

Redmond Youth Court - "We are organizing and starting a new youth court this year". Youth Court Student

Whatcom Youth Court - "This year we have increased the number of high schools participating in youth court from 6 to 8".  Youth Court Student

Seattle Youth Court - "This past January several of our youth court students participated in the Civics Summit at the Weston Hotel with guest speaker Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor".  Margaret Fisher - Coordinator



Sunday, October 7, 2018

WSAYC ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Register now for the upcoming Washington State Association of Youth Courts Annual Conference.

This is a free conference for youth/adults/new or organizing youth court staff - October 20th, 2019.  Seattle University School of Law 10-3:30pm

Please contact:  Margaret Fisher:  margaret.fisher@courts.wa.gov for registration information.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

BOTHELL YOUTH COURT

Youth court aims to educate teens about traffic violations The ticket is not reported to the Department of Licensing, and there are no insurance ramifications. 

By Lizz Giordano
Everett Herald
Wednesday, May 30, 2018 6:18am




Julia Kozak questions a fellow high school student during a hearing in Bothell Youth Court. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

BOTHELL —Judge Michelle Gehlsen has just a few minutes to emphasize the importance of safe driving skills to teenagers appearing before her with traffic violations.

“Usually the parent just pays the ticket, but how does that change behavior? What did they learn?” said Gehlsen, who works in Bothell Municipal Court. “I didn’t have time to really educate.”

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rather than just paying a fine, Gehlsen wanted a process that would allow offending teenagers time to reflect.

That dilemma led her to establish the Bothell Youth Court with UW Bothell Professor Camille Walsh.

The youth-led court gives young drivers an alternative to municipal court. Since established in 2013, the court has heard nearly 100 cases.

To participate, students have to be between 16 and 17 years old and have no previous tickets. Teens must also acknowledge guilt. The benefit is that the ticket is not reported to the department of licensing and there are no insurance ramifications, Gehlsen said.

Youth court procedures began like many other courts. A judge is introduced, opening statements are read and experts testify.

But when it comes to choosing a sentence, known in youth court as a disposition, a restorative justice approach is taken. Court is recessed as the jury, attorneys and the offending student form a circle to collectively decide a penalty.

The conversations start with students discussing who might have been harmed by the traffic infraction. Students give suggestions on how similar situations could be handled in the future.

Julia Kozak questions a fellow high school student during a hearing in Bothell Youth Court. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald) “Hearing from your peers as a young driver is really important,” said Julia Kozak, 18, a senior at Bothell High School and president of the youth court. “You can hear the same thing from your parents, but once you hear it from a friend you believe it.”

And when it comes to deciding a sentence, the restorative justice circle first gets to know the offending student to better understand how the punishment will affect them. The student is encouraged to offer input.

The youth court has the authority to give out fines. But that is rare, Walsh said.

“Generally what the youth are interested in finding is what’s going to develop the skills to do something differently next time,” Walsh said. “They want to address the underlying cause.”

Michelle Reyes, 17, a senior at Monroe High School and a participant in May’s youth court, found her sentence fair — five hours of community service and a reflection paper. The 17-year-old was cited for failing to yield to oncoming traffic when turning left, causing a crash.

Her peers opted for a lighter punishment than the previous hearing because of Reyes’ daily family commitments, which include picking up a younger sister from school each afternoon.
“It was fair enough,” Reyes said. “I’m busy, but I can make the time.”

Gehlsen, who usually hands out fines in her municipal courtroom, pointed to a student who was caught speeding in a school zone. The youth court assigned him crosswalk duty near a school.

“His essay was so powerful about what he learned,” Gehlsen said. “He said, ‘I didn’t realize that people really don’t stop at crosswalks and kids really do run out into the street. I learned why it’s so important to not speed in a school zone.’ ”

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @lizzgior. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

South African Students Participate at Seattle Youth Traffic Court

South African students joined their peers at Seattle Youth Traffic Court and four had the chance to serve on the youth court juries.

The students are from the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students, a Seattle-based nonprofit based at UW that hosts groups of visiting international students for short-term exchanges focused on civic engagement and community service.