September 13, 2006
The chief magistrate judge in Columbia County hopes he stepped on some toes last night to get his point across the room.
He's tired of seeing teens ruin their lives because of laws they may not have known about.
Judge Wade Padgett held a parent seminar at the new Performing Arts Theatre to educate parents on crimes teens are facing every day.
He's making the message loud and clear: every decision you make has a consequence, good or bad, and a decision you make on a Friday or Saturday night may last you a lifetime.
It was one class these parents made sure they didn't get caught playing hooky for.
"A lot of times parents and kids come in and say, if I'd only known...and that got frustrating, because people ruin their lives," Padgett said.
The class was called Teenage Years 101...and the lesson covered sex, drugs and alcohol.
"As pop culture becomes more liberal, the law becomes more stringent," Padgett said. "For example, a few years ago the age of consent for sexual activity was 14. Now it's 16."
And it's this type of confusion, he says, that's creating an explosion of 17 to 21 year olds he sees in his courtroom.
"Someone is not getting the message about what the law is if they say oral sex is not sex."
To make matters worse, he says most of them are repeat offenders.
"Start out with a minor in possession of alcohol, being disorderly in public, things of that nature, then usually becomes probation revocation because they can't pass the drug tests."
It's why he's educating parents and teens at separate times, so they don't have to be embarrassed about what the other may be asking.
"Children can ask me questions about how long marijuana stays in your system without knowing their parents are asking. When we do this program I'm not wearing my robe, but next time we see each other, if I have my robe on, I'm going to do my job. We're not going to hug or sing 'Kumbaya'. I'm going to do my job."
Educating everyone now...so there's no excuse when it's time for the gavel to come down.
The next session will be on September 26 at 7 p.m. at the new Columbia County Performing Arts Theater.
That one is only for teens, but if you were one of many that were turned away last night, and would like the judge to conduct another one, you're asked to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.