Image Credit: Putnam County School System / Twitter
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
A Putnam County Judge who threatened parents with jail time at the beginning of August has been reprimanded by the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct.
As part of his plan to “crack down on truancy problems,” General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Steven Randolph made a video addressing educators, parents, and students that was posted on Putnam County School System’s social media accounts at the beginning of the school year.
In that video, not only did Randolph say that parents could be incarcerated up to 10 days at a time if their children missed school, but announced that students would be required to complete 7 hours of “community service” at the local recycling center for every unexcused absence they accumulated.
“A judge’s public comments about pending or impending matters, such as those involved here, can have unintended consequences for the public, the parties and the judge,” wrote Board Chair G. Andrew Brigham in the public reprimand.
According to the reprimand, Randolph’s comments could have caused the public to lose confidence in his ability to approach his cases “fairly and impartially.”
“If the public is to maintain confidence in our system of justice, litigants must be afforded the “cold neutrality of an impartial court,” said the reprimand.
Randolph’s “extrajudicial” comments could have also lead to disqualification issues.
In Tennessee, judges are to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary,” must not “make any public statement that might interfere with the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court,” or “make any promises or pledges in connection with cases that are likely to become before the court.”
Randolph accepted the public reprimand that the investigative panel imposed upon him, having taken “full responsibility” for his actions and having “offered no excuses.”
A screenshot of the reprimand letter can be viewed below –
Randolph is not the only judge in Tennessee threatening parents and students in regards to truancy cases. The Tennessee Conservative previously reported that Coffee County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Gerald Ewell, Jr. ordered a homeschooled student back to public school at the beginning of the school year.
We have since learned that in that case, the school failed to notify the parent that her child was documented as truant from the previous school year until after she legally registered to homeschool her daughter with a Category IV non-public school.
Ewell Jr. has a reputation for being biased against homeschooling and has stated repeatedly in the courtroom that “homeschool is no school.” Coffee County parents have reported that the judge’s very demeanor changes at the mention of homeschooling even in cases where truancy is not involved.
Tennessee law states that a child found to be truant is classified as an “unruly child.” Under state law, an “unruly child” may not be placed on probation under the supervision of the local board of education unless they are also found to be delinquent or have violated a valid court order. However, witnesses to recent truancy cases in Ewell Jr.s’ courtroom say this law is being violated.
In addition, children can only be committed to DCS once they reach “strike three” for unruly offenses. This didn’t stop Ewell Jr. from threatening to send Taylor’s daughter away the very first time she appeared before him.
The Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcutt made an appearance at the local Republican Party on August 31st to talk about “Homeschooling and Truancy Cases.”
Northcutt – who took no questions from attendees – made it clear that he took issue with recent reporting regarding Coffee County and stated that Ewell Jr.s’ statements should have remained “confidential.”
Tenn. Code 49-3-3009 is the state law responsible for criminalizing parents for truancy. But this section of code also requires Schools to establish progressive truancy intervention plans which “must be applied prior to referral to juvenile court.” Requiring conferences, written notices, and referrals to community based services as needed, only once all of this has been applied can the school district move forward with any truancy action.
The school is required to provide a statement to the juvenile court that the truancy intervention failed. If the school fails to do this, any truancy action must be dismissed. Our sources indicate that none of this happened in the Taylor case.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.