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2017 Court News Events

The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) provides information and brief write-ups about newsworthy events happening in and around the Florida court system. 

Press Releases

News & Initiatives


Court staff recognized for saving taxpayer dollars

Florida Courts teams were recognized during the 2017 Prudential Productivity Awards luncheon, joining hundreds of other state employees responsible for programs and initiatives that saved millions of taxpayer dollars.

Three courts teams based in Tallahassee were among those recognized this week. State Courts System teams and individuals in Palm Beach County’s 15th Judicial Circuit and North Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit join the teams from the Office of the State Courts Administrator in Tallahassee among the 215 state employees from around the state to earn honors this year. Awards programs are scheduled later this month in locations throughout Florida.

It’s the 27th year of the awards program. Organizers note initiatives recognized by the program have produced more than $9 billion in added value or cost savings for taxpayers.

Honored at the Prudential Productivity Awards were:

Early Childhood Court Team

Early Childhood Court Team. 

Office of Court Improvement staff Sandra Neidert, John Couch, Leigh Merritt, David O’Kane, and George Roberts, along with Florida State University’s Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy for their work on Early Childhood Court.

Among a host of improvements, the work has significantly reduced the time in dependency court before children are reunified with parents, 

cases are closed and adoptions are finalized.

You can read in more detail on the Early Childhood Court webpage

 


The Office of the State Courts Administrator employees Candace Causseaux, Susannah Davis, Patty Harris, Scott Higgins, Arlene Johnson, Maggie Lewis, Alan Neubauer, and Roosevelt Sawyer were part of the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup.

Shared Remote Interpreting Team

Remote Court InterpretingTeam. 

Shared use of remote interpreting services allows courts to greatly improve interpreter services through enhanced technological communications in a state where up to a quarter of its residents have limited English proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The pilot program has: 

  • Improved quality with circuits leveraging state certified staff interpreter resources
  • Reduced compromises required of circuit court staff in favor of access over quality, because of a lack in available qualified interpreters.  
  • Increased staff efficiency by eliminating time and effort locating qualified interpreters or pay expensive travel accommodations to bring a qualified interpreter in-person to the courtroom.
  • Reduced delays in court proceedings associated with interpreters having to walk or drive between courtroom locations, or wait between hearings in one location, will be reduced.
  • Led to overall improvement of accountability of tax-payer funded court resources.

Family Court Education Team Family Court Education Team

Office of Court Improvement employees Avron Bernstein, Jennifer Grandal, Rose Patterson, Susan Proctor, Leslie Russell, Kathleen Tailer, Carrie Toy, and Andy Wentzell increased learning opportunities for family court judges while containing costs with distance-learning courses, Ask the Expert webinars, and online virtual court to train judges.

Examples include web-based publications for family court judges and court personnel, including the Dependency Benchbook, the Delinquency Benchbook, the Child Support Benchbook, and Domestic Violence Benchbook, and the Family Court Tool Kits.  The office also publishes a monthly electronic family court newsletter, emailed to more than 800 judges and court staff, about the latest innovations and initiatives.  

Read more about increased learning opportunities for Florida’s Family Court Judges

Congratulations to all who were recognized with Prudential Productivity awards. 

(posted June 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Prudential Productivity Awards recognize courts efforts

Florida courts personnel are again being recognized for their great work, serving the mission of the State Courts System and the people of Florida.

Winners of 2017 Prudential Productivity Awards will be honored in June.

Since 1989, the awards program has recognized and rewarded state employees and work units whose work significantly increases productivity and promotes innovation to improve the delivery of state services and save money for Florida taxpayers and businesses.

Innovative and cost-saving efforts were honored, including:

  • Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath, Judge Leonard Hanser, Michelle Spangenberg, Louis Tomeo, Adrienne Ellis, Daniel Eisenger, and Stewart Saalfield, of the 15th Judicial Circuit created a cost-containing diversionary program to assist adults and juveniles arrested for driving with a suspended license. The program aims to keep violators out of jail, help people get their driver license and frees up law enforcement resources for other purposes. -- Read more about suspended license program below --
  • Magistrate Judette Fanelli, Daniel Lieberman, Kathleen Clendining, Kathleen Alexis, Mary Quinlan, Renee Rattray, and Heather Burr-Shulman, from the 15th Judicial Circuit created a first-of-its-kind Therapeutic Court to help children achieve permanency and stability. The problem-solving court focuses on children in dependency proceedings because they have been abused, abandoned or neglected and gone through extensive trauma. A team approach gives more focused attention to cases that involve intense therapeutic monitoring. There have been 31 children included in Therapeutic Court and 10 have been adopted or places with a family member to provided permanency. -- Read more about the Therapeutic Court below --
  • Judge John Kastrenakes, Judge Laura Johnson, Judge Ted Booras, Clerk Sharon Bock, State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Public Defender Carey Haughwout, and Lt. Talal Masri, of Palm Beach County coordinated Operation Fresh Start to offer defendants with nonviolent misdemeanor and criminal traffic warrants an opportunity to resolve them without jail time. The program resulted in the recall of 379 bench warrants and the reinstatement or clearing of 160 driver licenses. More than $20,000 in fines and fees were collected and 96 payment plans were set up.  
    -- Read more about Operation Fresh Start below --
  • Tom Genung, trial court administrator in the 19th Judicial Circuit, and the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup improved access to qualified interpreter services. With the establishment of a statewide pool, interpreter resources are shared to leverage the use of existing qualified resources. -- Read more about the technology awards below --
  • Fred Buhl, court technology officer in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, led the Digital Court Reporting Initiative, Open Court, as well as Integrated Case Management Solution, Both began in Gainesville and the Eighth Circuit and have expanded throughout the state. OpenCourt is used in more than 200 courtrooms and hearing rooms while ICMS is installed in 23 counties. Both are cost-effective options reducing the need for outside vendors. -- Read more about the technology awards below --
  • The Office of Court Improvement increased learning opportunities for Florida’s family court judges while also reducing costs to taxpayers by offering a variety of cost-saving training and technical assistance methods: interactive, web-based publications; multidisciplinary, blended funding training events; distance learning courses; and, regional and local trainings. 
    -- Read more about the learning opportunities for judges below --
  • The Office of Court Improvement within the Office of State Courts Administrator, working with Florida State University, initiated an efficient and effective approach called Early Childhood Court that has resulted in substantial savings to taxpayers by educating judges on trauma, linking the courts with fast-tracked therapeutic services and gathering data documenting improved child and family outcomes in 17 jurisdictions across Florida.  -- Read more about the Early Childhood Court award below --

Read about the previous 2013 award winners and the 2014 award winners.

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Florida Supreme Court reports success in court communications

Court Communication Plan

Find your court using social media.

Florida Courts continue to move forward, building on the successes of the first year of the Court Communication Plan for the Judicial Branch of Florida.

"The plan is intended to help Florida courts reinforce the central message they all must consistently deliver: Courts are indispensable to our civil society, our economy and our democracy. This unified message is so vitally important because courts must have the trust of the public to function. And public trust in courts grows from public understanding of courts.”

As a news release from the Florida Supreme Court said about delivery of the Year One Implementation Report, “The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.”

Read the full 2016 Communication Plan Report

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Courts and justice partners provide a Fresh Start

A collaborative effort including Fifteenth Judicial Circuit judges and staff to effectively dispose of outstanding nonviolent cases earned a team in Palm Beach County a Prudential Productivity Award, announced in May. The innovative pilot program allows defendants to address fines, reinstate driving privileges and avoid jail.

Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath, in collaboration with Palm Beach County Clerk and
Comptroller Sharon Bock, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Public Defender Carey Haughwout, and State
Attorney Dave Aronberg, State Attorney, coordinated an event in April 2016 to assist individuals with outstanding nonviolent misdemeanor and criminal traffic warrants resolve their warrant without facing jail time.

During the event, individuals voluntarily appeared in court, established payment plans for fines and costs,
completed documentation and payments to have their driver licenses reinstated, and most importantly reached a resolution of their warrant without incarceration.

Operation Fresh Start resulted in the recall of 379 bench warrants; the reinstatement or clearing of 160 driver licenses; and the collection of more than $20,000 in fines and fees. Additionally, 96 payment plans were
established to enable monthly payments from litigants toward satisfying fines at a reasonable payment rate. The estimated total cost savings to the citizens of Florida as a result of Operation Fresh Start is $56,471.

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Early Childhood Court: Florida State University and OSCA’s Office of Court Improvement

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

(award recipients are OCI staff Sandra Neidert, John Couch, Leigh Merritt, David O’Kane, and George Roberts, and FSU’s Dr. Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy)

Family Court Logo

Early Childhood Court grew out of a concern about a pattern that was becoming increasingly evident to judges on the family court bench.  Called the multigenerational transmission of trauma and maltreatment, this pattern unfolds as follows: children who are maltreated often end up suffering a host of developmental issues (e.g., cognitive problems, speech delays, health problems, motor delays, and mental health problems); if the underlying factors are not addressed, the effects worsen over time, and the child appearing in dependency court today is likely to end up in delinquency court years later—and, later still, in court again, facing, perhaps, a domestic violence injunction or a paternity matter. 

In 2013, the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy and the Office of Court Improvement formed a partnership to address this pattern.  Later that year, using a small portion of a grant to fund trauma informed systems, they established, and piloted in two jurisdictions, an Early Childhood Court: a specialized problem-solving docket that focuses on cases involving children ages zero to three who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected.  In each of these dockets, members of an Early Childhood Court Team—comprising judges, case workers, attorneys, infant mental health clinicians, and parent and community organizations—worked together to identify and expand evidence-based services for, and to prevent the further traumatization of, young children.  Their goals were to improve child safety and well-being; heal trauma and repair the parent-child relationship; expedite permanency; and stop the intergenerational cycle of abuse/neglect/violence.   

This initial seed funding deepened the cross-agency work, and, since then, the two pilot court teams have expanded to 18 Early Childhood Court Teams that have thus far served more than 300 young children and their families and have “resulted in substantial savings to taxpayers by educating judges on trauma, linking the courts with fast tracked therapeutic services and gathering data documenting improved child and family outcomes.”

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Florida Excellence in Technology Awards presented to courts employees, teams

People and teams working for Florida’s courts are being recognized for their smart work to deliver justice effectively.

Pictured are Fred Buhl and Patty Harris, senior court operations consultant in Court Services for the Office of State Courts Administrator and member of the workgroup.Pictured are Fred Buhl and Patty Harris, senior court operations consultant in Court Services for the Office of State Courts Administrator and member of the workgroup.

An initiative to improve service and contain costs will be recognized by the Agency for State Technology at the Florida Digital Government Summit when the Shared Remote Court Interpreting Workgroup, chaired by 19th Judicial Circuit Trial Court Administrator Tom Genung, is presented the Florida Excellence in Technology Award.

Faced with a shortage of available qualified court interpreters, the workgroup developed a solution to allow courts to use innovative technology to access court interpreters over the statewide network, providing litigants with limited ability to communicate in English access to qualified interpreters over a much broader geographical area. 

Shared use of remote interpreting services allows courts to greatly improve interpreter services through enhanced technological communications, while also wisely using state resources.

Fred Buhl, court technology officer for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, will be recognized for continually going above and beyond to provide invaluable benefits for the judicial branch and the people it serves.

Buhl manages and coordinates the digital court reporting initiative called OpenCourt as well as the Integrated Case Management Solution, or ICMS. Both begin in Gainesville and the Eighth Circuit and have expanded throughout the state.

OpenCourt is used in more than 200 courtrooms and hearing rooms while ICMS is installed in 23 counties.

Both of these technologies are essential elements of courts’ due-process functions and, further, are cost-effective options reducing the need for outside vendors. Buhl’s skills and foresight mean the people working in many Florida courts can do their jobs more effectively. He has done so with open-source technology that means startup costs are greatly reduced along with ongoing licensing expenses.

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Program saves money and improves outcomes for driving with a suspended license

Judges, court operations personnel, County Clerk staff, and attorneys in the State Attorney Office and Public Defenders Office in the 15th Judicial Circuit were recognized with a Prudential Productivity Award for an effective program to reduce the public and private costs of prosecuting driving with a suspended license violations.

In Palm Beach County there are on average 1,106 arrests annually for driving with a suspended license. After reviewing this data, Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath determined the need to create the DUS Committee (Driving under suspended license), to set up a protocol aimed at assisting these individuals, both juveniles and adults. A diversionary program was developed, designed to keep individuals out of jail, assist them with obtaining their driver licenses, and free up law enforcement resources.

The key to this specialized DUS program is it allows individuals to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with specific, defined requirements for regaining their Florida Driver’s License. Indigent defendants are required to perform community service in lieu of paying outstanding fines. Those in compliance with the agreement, who have has not committed new criminal law violations, and who have  obtained a valid driver license, the State Attorney will nolle prosse the case.

A study by Florida Taxwatch Center for Smart Justice titled: Expansion of Civil Citation Programs Statewide Would Save Taxpayers Tens of Millions of Dollars and Improve Public Safety estimated the range of $1,467 to $4,614 in savings for each civil citation issued. Using this methodology and the lowest range of potential savings, the cost savings as a result of this program and the 334 civil citations issues means an estimated total cost savings of $489,978.

Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath, Judge Leonard Hanser, Michelle Spangenberg, Louis Tomeo, Adrienne Ellis, Daniel Eisinger, and Stewart Saalfield, of the 15th Judicial Circuit were those named in the award. 

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page


New Supreme Court Justice saw life through the eyes of a Honduran child

By Craig Waters, Florida Supreme Court Public Information Office

Alan Lawson and his wife Julie both grew up in families that believed in service to others, and so it was only natural for them to volunteer when they learned of a group doing health-related work in Central America called SMART – Surgical & Medical Assistance Relief Teams.That was how they came to the slums of Honduras in 1999 and met a beautiful 12-year-old child named Denia Osorto Corrales. She had an endless smile, full dark eyes, long black hair – and a damaged heart that soon could put her in the grave.

“We just couldn’t walk away from her without at least trying to help,” said Lawson, 55, who will be sworn as Florida’s 86th Supreme Court Justice Wednesday in Tallahassee. “We knew that God put her in out path for a reason.”

Lawson and Corrales families Lawson and Corrales families

Lawson said he and his wife began their work with Denia on the spot, by securing her medical records. Immediately upon returning to Orlando they arranged to bring her to their home for open-heart surgery at the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital. And when complications arose, they arranged for her return for a second surgery and follow-up care. She lived with the Lawson family for almost a year.

When they returned Denia to Honduras, they travelled with a team of family members, church members and other friends who worked together to move the family – seven siblings, parents and grandparents – from a two-room structure in a remote area with no electricity or running water into a home purchased with help from Make-a-Wish Foundation, and others. The team, which included Lawson’s parents, in-laws and children, personally rehabilitated the home on that trip.

The Lawsons have continued to travel annually to Honduras to volunteer there and visit with “the family.” Friends who were on the second trip in 2000 have sponsored Denia’s older brother through medical school at the National University of Honduras. The Lawsons are sponsoring another brother who is studying civil engineering at Honduras’ Catholic University. The goal is to increase the entire family’s self-sufficiency.

“Julie and I found that our lives were so greatly enriched by the presence of the Corrales family,” said Lawson. “Seeing life through their eyes, and seeing their family tragedy turn into a story of hope and promise was the most joyful experience I can recall, other than the birth of our children. We have come to love their family as much as we love our own.”awson will take the oath of office at the Florida Supreme Court Building on Wednesday, April 5 at 3:00 p.m. At the ceremony, Gov. Rick Scott will present Lawson’s written credentials to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, signifying the point in time when Lawson formally moves into the judicial branch as the state’s newest Justice.

More than 70 judges from around the state have committed to attend the event and take part in a Judicial Processional – formally entering the courtroom in Tallahassee wearing their black robes after a public introduction by the Supreme Court marshal.

Wednesday’s ceremony is open to the public, although overflow crowds already are expected. The event will be streamed live by the Florida Channel and from the Court’s own Gavel to Gavel video portal located at: http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/

Lawson is a native of Lakeland and grew up in Tallahassee. He and his wife later moved to the Orlando area, where Lawson served as a trial judge. More recently he was chief judge of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

Lawson is the 86th Justice named to the Supreme Court since Florida achieved statehood in 1845.

Please follow this link to the original Supreme Court Press Release.

(posted April 2017)  /  Return to top of page


Human Trafficking: The Eleventh Circuit's Specialty Court

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

The Facts

Often referred to as a form of modern-day slavery, human trafficking, which is criminalized under both federal and Florida law, is generally defined as the transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, or obtaining of another person for transport, for the purposes of forced labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation, using force, fraud, and/or coercion (e.g., violence, threats, blackmail, false promises, deception, manipulation, debt bondage).  Human trafficking crosses all social, ethnic, racial, and gender lines: traffickers prey on people of all ages, educational levels, nationalities, and abilities, and victims include illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, and even US citizens.  Eighty percent of victims are women and children (US Department of State).  Although human trafficking is frequently seen in the sex trade industry, human trafficking victims are also seen in industries associated with agriculture, factories and sweatshops, construction, day labor, commercial cleaning, tourism and hospitality, domestic service, health and elder care, child care, salon services, and door-to-door sales, as well as in many other informal and largely unregulated labor sectors (Florida Statewide Council on Human Trafficking).  

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates that traffickers exploit 20.9 million victims across the globe, with an estimated 1.5 million victims in North America, the European Union, and other developed economies combined.  Even though people are growing increasingly cognizant of this crime, human trafficking continues to be underreported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and an inability to recognize its signs.

Human Trafficking in Florida

Human trafficking is metastasizing in Florida.  Indeed, human trafficking experts declare that Florida is one of the most active states in the US for traffickers: according to the 2015 National Human Trafficking Resource Center Statistical Overview, in calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Florida ranked third, behind New York and Texas.  Law enforcement officials speculate that Florida has become a hub for human trafficking because it is a popular destination for transients, runaways, migrant workers, and tourists (labor trafficking is ubiquitous at restaurants, country clubs, and hotels, for example) as well as being a locus for organized crime.

Since 2004, a wide range of public and private entities, both statewide and local, have dedicated themselves to raising awareness about and supporting the victims of human trafficking in Florida.  Among the most prominent are the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, several statewide task forces and councils established by the legislature and the attorney general’s office, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the Florida Medical Association.  Collectively, these entities have performed groundbreaking victim-based research assessments of human trafficking; developed a statewide strategic plan on human trafficking; assisted with drafting Florida’s anti-trafficking laws; developed human trafficking curricula and conducted trainings for law enforcement, child protective investigators, service providers, medical practitioners, and other groups that are well-positioned to identify and aid human trafficking victims; provided outreach to and services for victims; and crafted recommendations for more effectively combating trafficking crimes and caring for its victims.        

Florida’s courts have also been playing an active role: the courts see this as an important access to justice and administration of justice matter because courts are uniquely situated to convene and coordinate the stakeholder groups that have to address the issues related to human trafficking that surface in the judicial process.  For judges and court personnel, numerous human trafficking trainings, both in-person events and webinars, have been offered, and others are currently being planned.  In addition, OSCA produced and regularly updates a Human Trafficking Overview that details the relevant federal and Florida law regarding human trafficking cases, offers tips to help judges recognize these types of cases, outlines steps to follow if a human trafficking victim appears in court, and provides lists of useful information (e.g., remedies available for victims, the service needs of child victims, and resources for those seeking additional information). Go to OSCA's Human Trafficking web page.

The Eleventh Circuit’s Human Trafficking Specialty Court

Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, associate administrative judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Juvenile Division, presides over the recently launched human trafficking court, called GRACE Court (Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment Court). Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, associate administrative judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Juvenile Division, presides over the recently launched human trafficking court, called GRACE Court (Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment Court).

Of particular note is the work of the Eleventh Circuit, which has taken a vigorously proactive stance regarding the youngest casualties of human trafficking.  Acknowledging that Miami, because of its geographic location, is “one of the leaders in this crime,” the circuit, through an administrative order issued by Chief Judge Bertila Soto In March 2015, established a Human Trafficking Court, designed “to serve young victims of human trafficking who entered the court system under a Chapter 39 Petition and/or a delinquency petition filed under Statute 985.”  According to the circuit’s Protocol for Human Trafficking Cases in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, the mission of this specialty court, which officially launched earlier this year, is to “provide victims with comprehensive services and support in order to recover from the life they have been exposed to, have a successful transition to independence, and begin to lead a healthy life, physically, mentally and emotionally.”  The protocol adds, “It is hoped that the services and support will also reduce any further victimization or involvement in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems.” 

Part of the juvenile dependency division of the Eleventh Circuit, this is the first specialized court in the nation devoted solely to human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.  In addition, while some courts address human trafficking in dependency and some address it in delinquency, the Eleventh Circuit is the first court to address human trafficking both in dependency and delinquency in a unified setting: whenever a child is identified as a victim of human trafficking—whether it is in dependency, delinquency, or family—that case is transferred to Human Trafficking Court.  

Recognizing that there is a “stigma and shame associated with the term human trafficking,” the Eleventh Circuit resolved to call this docket GRACE Court—an acronym for Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment.  The circuit hopes that, in addition to removing the taint associated with the term human trafficking, the name GRACE Court will “encourage these young people and their families to start seeing themselves in a position of strength and growth.”   

GRACE Court logo, designed by Andrea Junco and Tania Smith, School for Advanced Studies.In developing GRACE Court, the Eleventh Circuit understood that, in order to identify the victims of human trafficking and to respond effectively to their needs, collaboration is essential.  Thus GRACE Court depends upon the use of multi-systems partnerships in order to reap the benefits of collective impact.  For instance, its steering committee—which provides oversight, offers guidance on key issues, recommends actions in matters requiring specialized knowledge, and addresses any problems or concerns regarding the operations, policy, and procedures of GRACE Court—includes representatives from the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney, the Guardian ad Litem Program, the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, the Miami-Dade County Coordinated Victims Assistance Center, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Juvenile Justice Support Program, and several local, not-for-profit entities dedicated to creating a better life for children in crisis, as well as a survivor of human trafficking. 

Moreover, GRACE Court utilizes a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team staffing model.  The team includes all managers and service providers involved in a case, as well as members from most of the entities represented on the steering committee.  Meetings take place every other week, and team members—who are expected to be present at all meetings—gather to discuss and review what happened at the last court hearing and what has transpired since then.  Each member discusses the child’s progress and compliance with services, and the information shared at these meetings is addressed at the next court hearing.  To ensure that team members are mindful of the most current information and research as well as aware of the latest screening and assessment tools, they are required to undergo training in human trafficking and trauma-informed services. 

When a child is accepted into GRACE Court, the court evaluates his or her needs and ensures that all referrals are sent to the appropriate service providers.  The court also assists in ensuring that the victim is involved in his or her case plan and/or disposition report.  GRACE Court works diligently to create an environment that empowers victims to recommend the services and provisions they feel are necessary to recover from the trauma and victimization.  Among the services and provisions available are food and clothing, immediate safe housing, medical care, counseling, substance abuse treatment, education and vocational support, employment opportunities, mentoring, and intensive case management.  Collaboration is evident here as well, for GRACE Court has developed an extensive network of community-based partnerships to provide these services.

The circuit’s Protocol for Human Trafficking Cases emphasizes that collaboration—e.g., the multi-systems approach, multi-disciplinary team staffing, and community-based partnerships—are fundamental to the success of GRACE Court.  As it states, “Partners must work together and elicit helpful feedback and solutions regarding this court project. We must learn as a group that success may be measured differently for this population.  The way a community and a legal system react to a victim’s life can influence a victim’s level of engagement and trust.  A specialized court team can coordinate services in an effort to keep victims on the right path, increase self-sufficiency, provide victims with the opportunity for healing and hope, and prevent them from returning to the sex trade or any other life on the streets.”   

GRACE Court is presided over by Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, who is also the associate administrative judge of the circuit’s juvenile division.  She explained that she first developed an interest in this area of law in 2011, after she attended a circuit judges conference at which the phenomenon of human trafficking was discussed.  Dismayed that human trafficking (or child slavery, as she sees it) happens with such frequency in this country, she began to research the matter and to find ways that the Eleventh Circuit could partner with community agencies to help these children.  GRACE Court is the result of her research and contemplations.

Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia emphasizes that, “Unbeknownst to most, human trafficking does not only occur in third world countries, but also in our own backyards.  When 12-year-old children are being held captive so their bodies can be sold, this community must respond.  It is my hope that GRACE Court will be the answer for the boys and girls and their families who come to our court system from such desperate straits.”

(posted April 2017)  /  Return to top of page


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