by Jim Ridley
Tonight the Metro Council is scheduled to appoint a new judge to replace Nashville Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green, who retired last month after 14 years. Council members will choose among three magistrates with Juvenile Court experience, including Sophia Crawford (nominated by Metro Councilman Fabian Bedne) and Carlton Lewis (nominated by former Juvenile Court Judge Richard Jenkins). Crawford was appointed magistrate in 2002, Lewis in 1998.
The third nominee is Sheila Calloway. Former Huffington Post commentator Molly Secours — who's logged many hours in the halls of Nashville Juvenile Court in her roles as documentarian and activist — went online this week at the Red Room blog with a public endorsement:
Studies reveal that juvenile court judges weigh a number of factors when hearing cases that impact youth, families and entire communities. The judge considers family attitude, parental involvement, along with school behavior and performance, and whether or not the individual is repentant.
For several reasons, these factors can work against minority youth and families. Very often in marginalized and disenfranchised families, parents find the judicial process intimidating and sometimes attitudes that are motivated by fear and intimidation are interpreted as being uncooperative.
What is sometimes interpreted as being obstinate or uncooperative behavior is often a symptom of stress, fear, or plain fatigue. For a low-income minority family relying on public transportation in a city with a poor transit system, adhering to a schedule requires a herculean effort. And like anyone, many people are too proud or ashamed to admit hardships and often camouflage their circumstances in order to preserve their dignity.
Often what lies beneath bravado is insecurity and fear and very often this is where misunderstandings and faulty interpretations are bred. For many poor and disenfranchised youth, bravado is a form of survival—especially for young men. A common mantra heard among many juvenile court youth is "show no fear."
Of all the skills required to be an effective Juvenile Court Judge, cultural competency ranks at the top. A Juvenile Court Judge that recognizes the faces and knows and understands the needs and struggles of the families and children being served is crucial.
One of the candidates eligible for the position is Juvenile Court Magistrate Sheila Calloway, an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt School of Law who was appointed to the Magistrate position by Judge Green in 2004.
Like Judge Green, Magistrate Calloway is committed, fierce, passionate and involved. The word on the street is that Magistrate Calloway (who is African American) is simultaneously tough and compassionate, and is committed (if not adamant) about both bringing and keeping families together.
According to associates, Calloway’s philosophy reflects a woman convinced of the power of mediation and cooperation and someone who respectfully recognizes the plight and circumstances of those who stand before her. And although she is adamant that in all cases justice must be served, she is equally committed to people leaving Juvenile Court feeling ‘whole’ and hopeful.
The Nashville Bar Association and the Napier-Looby Bar Association, which addresses issues of concern to minority attorneys, conducted surveys among their membership as to the most qualified candidate for the Juvenile Judge position. In both polls Magistrate Calloway was chosen as the "Highly Recommended" top candidate for the position, a huge endorsement of support from local Nashville attorneys.
It is no wonder Judge Green appointed her magistrate and is evidence that for many, the face of Juvenile Court does matter indeed.