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Highland Lakes Teen Court expands, needs young jurors and attorneys

Marble Falls Municipal Court

Cases from the Highland Lakes Teen Court program will be heard at Marble Falls Municipal Court (pictured) and Granite Shoals Municipal Court. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

A Marble Falls teen court system that uses teens as attorneys and jurors is extending its services to other Highland Lakes jurisdictions. Highland Lakes Teen Court will eventually include Granite Shoals, Marble Falls, Meadowlakes, Cottonwood Shores, and Sunrise Beach Village once all contracts are signed.

“It’s a cheaper route than going through the court system,” said Marble Falls Municipal Court Judge Cheryl Pounds. “It also keeps (citations) off (a teen’s) record while also teaching them the judicial system.”

Rather than fines, defendants must perform community service and complete mandatory teen court jury terms. Defendants have 90 days after a ruling to complete their required community service and jury terms.

A one-time $20 fee is the only cost associated with the court. Once defendants serve their community service and jury terms, citations tried before the court are removed from the teen’s record.

Pounds has presided over the court since 2012. It began in Marble Falls the year before.

“We’ve had lessons learned in the courtroom,” she said.

Teen courts are composed of teenage juries and attorneys accompanied by older mentor attorneys, who help guide juveniles through the judicial process. Offenders who appear before the court must plead guilty or no contest.

Volunteer teen attorneys present their case to a jury of six fellow teens. After hearing the evidence, the jury determines a fair penalty range for the defendant’s offense.

Another key asset of teen court is improved relationships between law enforcement and youths, Pounds said.

“I like the interaction between officers and teens,” she said. “I like that they get to work together.”

After serving as a mentor attorney for the court for over five years, Granite Shoals Municipal Judge Frank Reilly saw firsthand the positive effects of the program.

Over the summer, Reilly approached Pounds and asked if she’d be interested in expanding the court to Granite Shoals.

Pounds spoke to Municipal Court Judge Don Adams, who presides over Cottonwood Shores, Sunrise Beach Village, and Meadowlakes, to hear his thoughts about an expanded court. Adams was also interested in sending his cases to the joint program.

Currently, only Granite Shoals and Marble Falls have signed the interlocal agreement. Pounds is still waiting for Adams to appear before the different city councils within his jurisdiction to get approval.

Several Burnet County justices of the peace are also interested in referring county cases to the program, Pounds said. For that to occur, individual JPs will need to have contracts signed by the Burnet County Commissioners Court. 

While previously only taking place during the school year, the new court could operate year-round if the caseload suffices.

We need more teen attorneys, we need more jurors,” Pounds said. “We also need more mentor attorneys.”

The court will alternate between hearing cases at Marble Falls Municipal Court, 606 Avenue N, and Granite Shoals Municipal Court, 2221 N Phillips Ranch Road.

If interested in volunteering or learning more about the expanded program, email court@marblefallstx.gov or call 830-693-7173.

nathan@thepicayune.com