News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The juvenile court system is facing big changes. Some worry it comes at the cost of diversity. The top superior court judge is speaking out about the controversial changes for the first time.
"And for this to happen at this time and in this place simply bespeaks the fact that I was right." said Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders. "They don't respect you."
Saunders sounded off on weekly radio segment on 96.3 KISS FM with Fattz and Cher after learning he and fellow Judge Ben Allen are off the bench effective Sept. 30.
"The most qualified people got the job," said Chief Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet.
Overstreet is speaking out for the first time since word broke there would be no African-American judges in juvenile court. It is a court where more than 80 percent of the young people coming from places like Augusta's Youth Development Campus are African-American.
"It creates a situation where you are telling one segment of society that there is no hope for you," Allen said.
Overstreet concedes the move might not be good politics.
"The politics of it," Overstreet said. "It may be a good thing to try to grind and maybe make an issue of it. I don't think the people in Richmond County are that concerned about it. I think they want to go forward."
Overstreet says it was time for the court to go in a new direction.
"Juvenile court has always been a mixture of not so much court, but involvement in the community, and it needs more of that," he said. "And we think we didn't have that with them."
Overstreet notes the part-time judges will be replaced by three full-time judges to better tackle an already heavy case load.
"You don't pick somebody just because of their skin or where they live or how much money they make," Overstreet said. "You pick the most qualified [person], and I assure that that's what drove us in this case."
Besides, Overstreet says the courts are diverse.
"I know we have 3 percent of the lawyers are African-American," he said.
Allen says the people should have the final say by reaching out to the Augusta Commission. The commission controls the court's purse strings.
"Tell our elected officials that until diversity is achieved -- no funding." Allen said.
Judge Overstreet says Allen is a "good friend." He says the courts are just going in a new direction.