LEWISTON — The L/A Youth Court Advisory Board held a party this spring at the Lewiston Public Library in celebration of completing the last case hearings for the current school year which marked the 10th year of such hearings for Maine's only Youth Court.
The party was also in celebration of L/A Youth Court founder Dick Kendall's retirement from the advisory board after having served as its chairman for the prior nine years. Current Board Chairman Judge Paul Cote presented Kendall with a plaque in recognition of his service to the twin city communities by forming the court, and leading for nine years this special body that hears certain cases rather than their going to a regular court.
Maine's Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice, Leigh Saufley, came over to watch the hearings held at the 8th District Courthouse on Lisbon Street and to congratulate Kendall on his foresight and fortitude in persevering until a Youth Court was formed in Lewiston and Auburn. Presently 1200 plus such courts exist across the U.S. but only the L/A court exists in Maine despite other communities exploring the idea.
Youth Court consists of high school youths who have been trained for 16 or more hours at their respective schools on how to serve as court officers, including being court recorders, bailiffs, judges and both prosecuting and defense attorneys.
Police officers from the twin cities review cases brought to their departments for suitability for referring to the Youth Court. Only first time offenders of misdemeanors who admit their guilt may be referred to Youth Court since it is just a sentencing court and not one that is authorized by the state to determine guilt or innocence. Accordingly most of the cases referred involve local youths who have been caught shoplifting from local stores.
Sentences usually involve the respondents serving community service at various local institutions, letters of apology to offended parties, essays on the damage to society their conduct has caused and sometimes financial restitution. In a few cases referrals to organizations that treat mental health, or anger management, are made.
First time offenders who have been sentenced by their peers in Youth Courts across the country seldom re-offend as the parents counsel their children that any future such misconduct will result in the offenders getting a permanent court record that can be referenced by anyone checking their background.