After several years of planning, the fifth and sixth floors of 32 Waddell St. were completely gutted to accommodate courtrooms and offices for the Cobb Juvenile Court, said Judge Joanne Elsey.
The two floors were previously home to the Cobb Superior Court before that court moved to a new building on Haynes Street at the end of 2010.
More than $2.7 million was spent from existing county SPLOST funds to move the Cobb juvenile court from County Services Parkway, where it has been since the 1980s, near the county health department, emergency services building and Cobb jail.
“That’s like going from a very humble place to moving into the Governor’s Mansion,” Elsey said.
Elsey, who was appointed to the Cobb Juvenile Court 11 years ago, said the move right before Christmas went smoothly, with the court opening Dec. 23.
As of last week, the paint was drying on final touches and signs around the hallways were adjusted.
The new location did not come with many upgrades to technology, except for hanging microphones above the lawyers’ tables in the courtrooms.
Elsey said the focus was on having the new offices and courtrooms be more spacious and nicer for the public.
“I think courthouses should be imposing and grand,” to display the serious daily impact they have on lives, Elsey said.
The Cobb Juvenile Court will have an open house to show off the newly remodeled space on the afternoon of Feb. 12.
The staff, cases handled
The main advantage of changing the location is being central in Marietta, which Elsey said is personally a great benefit, since she lives only 1.5 miles from the new office space.
She plans to take advantage of the 25 minute walk to work.
The new location is also great for staff who will be able to lunch on the Square, Elsey said. Being downtown is also more convenient for residents dealing with the court and more efficient for lawyers who attend hearings in multiple county courts.
“It is just such a nicer environment,” Elsey said.
The renovated space has five court rooms for Elsey, who will fill the presiding judge role for two years, Judge James Whitfield, Judge Juanita Stedman and Judge Jeffrey Hamby.
The fifth courtroom allows extra space for future expansion. Cobb Juvenile Court judges are appointed to a four-year term by Superior Court judges.
Elsey said the Cobb Juvenile court staff of 80 full-time and 20 part-time employees are “hands-on” and “out in the community.”
The list includes 22 administrative and clerical positions, 10 district attorneys or defender advocates, two investigators with the Cobb Sheriff’s department and 14 security officers.
Security has always been handled well and the Sheriff’s office is a cooperative department to work with, Elsey said. Elsey says this is not the case in other counties, based on conversations she has had with colleagues.
According to The Juvenile Court of Cobb County 2012 Annual Report, 21 full-time probation officers and specialists conducted 413 informal hearings during the year and completed 1,899 pre-arraignment investigations.
The 2013 report was not currently available.
There were 11,056 hearings scheduled in 2012, including 2,951 delinquent cases, which would not be infractions if committed by adults.
There were 1,231 custody cases docketed. Criminal cases included 523 drug, 590 assault and battery, 104 burglary and 933 public disturbance cases.
Elsey said the numbers for Cobb Juvenile Court are more than in more rural counties, but similar to Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
A place for the children
Being on the juvenile court is a hard, “heart-wrenching” job, but Elsey said she is fulfilled by the judgeship.
“We are a court of rehabilitation,” Elsey said. “We deal with families and kids in crisis.”
The balance is in finding a solution that is in the best interest of a child’s welfare and also serves the best interest of the state.
Fourteen citizen review panels, consisting of 77 active volunteers, reviewed an average of 25 to 30 cases per month, involving approximately 50 children per month, the 2012 annual report said.
Amber Patterson, 37, lives in Marietta and has been a practicing attorney dealing only with children since 2005. She serves as an independent guardian ad litem appointed by the Cobb Juvenile court.
The majority of her cases involve the temporary placement of a child who might be taken from their parents’ custody to be placed with a relative or in the state’s care.
“This is their whole life. … I make sure they have their voice heard in court,” said Patterson about a child’s input in the decision making process.
The renovated Cobb Juvenile court allows Patterson’s clients to feel safe and well taken care of, more so than the old building. Also, the courtrooms now have three tables facing the judge’s bench, whereas before there were only two.
That third space is greatly important for older children who want to have a role in custody proceedings, Patterson said. Before the children were placed in the public seating section.
“It gives them the feeling that they have the right to be at this hearing,” Patterson said.