Chief Judge Harold H. Greene of the District's Court has advised that the juvenile cellblock interview room in the new $40 million court-house be remodeled because the present telephone interviewing system doesn't work, said J. Jerome Bullock, director of the U.S. marshal's office for the District of Columbia.
So far only five of the 14 pairs of juvenile cellblock interview cubicles have been fitted with telephones. In the long narrow interview area lawyers and clients sit facing one another in small cubicles separated by glass partitions. They can see one another but need telephone to speak.
Greene arrived at the compromise of replacing the glass partition with a wire mesh screen after meeting with attorneys and marshals, said Bullock. The marshals wanted the thick, bulletproof glass to remain, and the attorneys wanted the area completely open, he said.
Bullock said it was his understanding that the glass partitions in both the adult and juvenile cellblocks were to be replaced by the wire mesh screen.
"We recognize there has been some delays caused by the new building," he said. "We're working very vigorously to try to correct them."
For several weeks now, attorneys representing juveniles have complained about the shortage of telephones and other problems in the lawyer-client interviewing system for juvenile cases. Attorneys have held meetings with Greene, the U.S. marshal's office and Judge Byron Sorrell, who was Presiding over the referals section of juvenile court when the problems first occurred.
In addition to the faulty telephones, attorneys representing clients in the new referrals court have complained of long waiting periods to see clients. They also say that as court time nears marshalls often cut short interviews to take youths up to the courtroom cellblock area. In some cases, attorneys have said they have gone to court without seeing their clients at all.
The new referrals court is for newly arrested juveniles whose cases are being heard for the first time. Some new referrals are brought in at about 9 a.m. During that hour court-appointed at in at about 9 a.m. from the local juvenile detention center for court hearings that begin at 10 a.m. During that hour court-appointed attorneys must try to interview their clients. And many attorneys say that the limited interview period and restrictions on interviewing juveniles in the court's cellblocks make it difficult for them to represent their clients properly in court.
Barry Kowalski, director of the Antioch School of Law juvenile clinic, and Russell Canan, president of the Family Division of Trial Lawyers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group with a membership that fluctuates between 80 and 120, have represented the attorneys at meetings with judges and marshalls to discuss interview procedures.
In earlier meetings with Sorell, Kowalski said they had asked the judge to waive restrictions prohibiting attorneys from interviewing clients in the central cellblock and the cells behindthe court.
"I've made at least three exceptions, said Sorell. "Usually with a lawyer who has had no chance to talk to his client. But if we have five lawyers with 15 clients . . ."
Sorell said he did not approve of attorneys interviewing in the courtroom cellblock because of limited security, noise that could be heard in the courtroom, and the lack of privacy for people confined in the cells. He explained that the toilet facilities in both cellblocks are not private. Therefore lawyers of the opposite sex of their clients are not allowed to interview clients in the cells.
At the same time, attorneys say they don't feel they can represent their clients properly in court without intervewing them.
Ella Solomons, another Antioch attorney, recalled, "We (the Antioch lawyers) went in the first week (that the new court was open) and got to talk to one out of five clients." Later in court she said they were unable to make recommendations on how some clients' cases should be handled because they hadn't interviewed them.
"One of the kids got detained (confined), continued Solomons. "I don't know if it's our fault. But we couldn't do anything!"
"A lot of the problem is just a product of the new courthouse," added Canan. "But the problem is more acute with the new referral cases . . . You pick up two, three, four cases. You have to talk to the juveniles and the probation officers and you need 30 or 45 minutes for each client." He said the lawyers were now averaging about 15 minutes interview time per client.
Meetings on how the immediate problems can be resolved are expected to continue with Judge Carlisle E. Pratt, who will preside this month.