The Chatham County Juvenile Court Judges are appointed to four-year terms by the Chatham County Superior Court. Judges must be 30 years of age, have practiced law for five years, and have lived in Georgia for three years. Full-time judges cannot practice law while holding office. The jurisdiction of the Chatham County Juvenile Court encompasses all of Chatham County, which includes the cities of Savannah, Tybee Island, Pooler, Garden City, Port Wentworth, Bloomingdale, Thunderbolt and Vernonburg.
The Court Administrator plans, coordinates and directs all of the administrative operations of the Juvenile Court. The administrator oversees the personnel and fiscal management functions of the Court. The Court is organized into four sections: Intake staff, Probation staff, Clerk’s office and Panel Coordination, which includes other support functions. A supervisor is assigned to oversee each division.
Clerk of Court
The Clerk’s office staff is responsible for the maintenance of all juvenile court records. All complaints, petitions, summons, orders, notices and pleadings are filed in the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office prepares the daily court dockets, provides proper notice for hearings, records all court hearings and reports any moving violations to the Department of Driver Services. In addition to this, the staff is responsible for greeting the public, answering incoming calls and in some cases, preparing final orders.
The clerk’s office is also responsible for transferring cases to other Courts, receiving cases transferred from other Courts, submitting case records and transcripts to the Court of Appeals, maintaining evidence, sealing Juvenile Court records when ordered to do so by the Courts and overseeing the destruction of court records as provided by law.
Family Dependency Treatment Court Coordinator
The Family Dependence Treatment Court (FDTC) Coordinator serves as the chief administrator of the FDTC, and therefore is responsible for: scheduling, coordinating, and assuring that the necessary drug testing is available; coordinating the referral process; and developing and communicating agendas and notifications of special meetings and dates. The FDTC coordinator writes and administers grant funding for the program and speaks to community organizations. Additionally, the Coordinator prepares for weekly staffings and Court hearings.
An Intake worker is assigned complaints to review and make recommendations for the appropriate course of action. The process begins when a complaint is made to the Juvenile Court involving an alleged delinquent or unruly act by a juvenile. The juvenile is either released to their parents or guardian or placed in the detention center pending a hearing. A complaint may be handled in one of three ways:
Formal Action - This requires scheduling the matter for a hearing before the Judge.
Informal Adjustment - This action allows for diversion from the Court hearing. The intake officer sets conditions that must be met if the complaint is to be handled by an informal adjustment. This usually means charging an "informal adjustment fee" and/or setting other specific conditions (ie: attending the Conflict Resolution program, attending and completing a drug and alcohol assessment/treatment, undergoing individual counseling, community service, etc.)
Dismissal of Complaint - A complaint may be dismissed for several reasons. However, the most common reason is due to a lack of probable cause.
The Probation staff provides supervision to children found to be delinquent or unruly and in need of court supervision. Probation Officers meet with the child at least once a month, though some children may receive additional contacts from the Probation Officer based upon a risk assessment. Probation Officers ensure that each child on probation attends school regularly and in an orderly manner, and quarterly school contacts are required. Probation Officers administer drug screens on each probationer to ensure they remain drug and alcohol free. They also make referrals to service providers in the community who provide counseling, treatment, and rehabilitative services to meet the needs of each child. If a child violates the conditions of probation or commits a new offense, the Probation Officer may file a petition and bring the child back to Court. In 2009, 665 unique children were placed on probation to the Court and supervised by the probation staff. There were over 15,550 contacts made with children, their parents, community service providers, and schools this calendar year.
The Panel Coordinator is responsible for authorizing shelter care in cases where abuse or neglect is suspected. The Coordinator also organizes panel reviews for all children in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services.