Junior Marshals hosts mock trial for Muscogee Co. students

This article was originally published at www.wtvm.com

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A few dozen middle school students gathered at the Muscogee County Superior Court yesterday to participate in a fun hands-on learning experience: a mock trial.

Columbus Judge Gil McBride says he has sponsored this event with the Junior Marshal program for about a decade.

The mock trial helps to teach Junior Marshals about the history of the Georgia court system and gives students an interactive lesson as they act out various court cases and proceedings.

The two-year Junior Marshal program is mentoring program that focuses on citizenship, leadership, education, fun and teamwork. It is offered in all Muscogee County Middle Schools.

The Columbus Branch of the NAACP Installs New Officers

Dads: Do You Know What Legitimation Is?

This article was originally published at www.wtvm.com

A new project in the local judicial system is gaining momentum.

It's for fathers who want to have legal ties to their children and it's a step many dads might not realize they need to take.

Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Gil McBride says the laws on the books in Georgia when it comes to children born out of wedlock have changed very little over the past 800 years.

A baby born to parents that are not married, under the law, belongs to its mother.

"Mere possession of child is not the same thing as having legal custody and decision-making authority for a child. There is a specific legal process to follow for fathers that are interested in doing that," explained McBride.

It's called legitimation. Without it, fathers have no right to custody or visitation with their kids although the laws say they have to support them financially.

The Chattahoochee Circuit has launched the "Legitimation Station"- so single dads know the importance of establishing legal rights to their children and have the resources to start the process.

"We're here to deal with the situations where parents have been unable to work it out on their own and to educate fathers on the need to bring a lawsuit into the courtroom to make this happen and to hopefully smooth the process for them a little bit along the way," Judge McBride added.

For links to forms for filing a petition for legitimation, you can visit www.chattahoocheefamilylawcenter.org.

If you don't have access to the internet, public access terminals have been set up in each of the circuit's six counties: Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Muscogee, Talbot and Taylor.

In Columbus, the terminal is set up on the 8th floor Law Library and volunteers from the Columbus Bar Association are there on the first and third Fridays of each month from 10 AM- 12 noon to help fathers fill out the forms.

The cost to file is $212, according to Judge McBride

6th annual Whitney M. Young jr. Service Award Dinner held in Columbus

This article was originally published at www.wtvm.com

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) – Recognizing individuals and businesses who support and sponsor scouting in the Chattahoochee Valley, that was the mission at the 6th annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award Dinner.

Honorees included Superior Court Judge Gil McBride, pastor Johnny Flakes III of Fourth Street Baptist Church, and St. Francis Hospital.

The service awards are given out to those who specifically help to provide scouting programs for "at risk" youth.

Organizers say scouting continues to be a valuable tool for preparing boys to succeed in the future. 

"Scouting has been around for a long time, but what do we do? Scouting is simply mentoring young persons in our community so that they can take their rightful places in our community. It's preparing and mentoring them for leadership," said Pastor Roy G. Plummer.

In addition to traditional programs, Boy Scout chapters at schools and churches all over the Chattahoochee Valley are also implanting STEM programs providing science, technology, and math education. News Leader 9's Barbara Gauthier was the mistress of ceremonies.

Criminal Justice Students Present Jail Survey Results

This article was originally published at news.columbusstate.edu/

COLUMBUS, Ga. – A group of Columbus State University students in Steven Glassner’s criminal justice class recently presented their findings of an extensive survey of inmates currently housed in the Muscogee County Jail.

The students visited the jail and collected data from inmates as part of the Muscogee County Jail Project. The results of the survey will be used to address overcrowding in the correctional facility and to raise awareness of other concerns that might need to be addressed in the facility and in the court system.

Dennis Rome, dean of CSU’s College of Letters and Sciences, also attended the presentation, as did Superior Court Judge Gil McBride, attorney Katonga Wright, Columbus City Councilor “Pops” Barnes and members of the Muscogee County Jail Project Committee

Chief Judge McBride to Hear GA Supreme Court Case

This article was originally published at GASupreme.US

Atlanta, Feb. 8, 2017 – Superior Court Chief Judge Gil McBride of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit has been designated to serve in place of Justice Michael P. Boggs in the appeal of Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P., et al. (S16G0743) and Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P., et al. v. Martin (S16G0750). The Supreme Court of Georgia will hear arguments in the case on Feb. 13, 2017 during its 10:00 a.m. session. In this high-profile Cobb County case, lawyers for a young man left permanently brain-damaged by gang members who beat him while he waited for a bus after visiting Six Flags are appealing a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals that threw out his jury award of $35 million. In addition to hearing arguments, Judge McBride will participate in the Court’s decision.

Judge McBride, 54, was elected to the Superior Court of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit in 2008 in a contested election for an open seat. He was reelected in 2012 and 2016 without opposition. He became the circuit’s Chief Judge in 2014. (The judicial circuit includes the counties of Chattahoochee, Muscogee, Harris, Mario, Talbot and Taylor.)

Judge McBride received his Bachelor of Arts degree with special honors from George Washington University in 1984. Two years later he graduated from George Washington University with a Master of Arts in American Literature. He obtained a law degree from the Walter F. George School of Law, Mercer University in 1991.
Judge McBride is an active member of the community and has received numerous awards for his work, including recognition by the NAACP for his efforts as Chief Judge to address criminal case backlogs in Columbus through the Rapid Resolution Program.

Judge McBride and his wife, Betsy, have been married 30 years and have four children. He and his family worship at Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Columbus, and at Bethesda Baptist Church in Ellerslie.

(Designated judges are appointed when a justice must recuse himself or herself from a particular case. The Supreme Court of Georgia maintains a list of select judges from around the state and when the need arises, the Court appoints the next judge on the list.)

Judges tackle drug abuse, mental health through accountability courts

This article was originally published in the Ledger-Enquirer.

One by one drug offenders appear before Judge Frank Jordan Jr. with details about the rocky road to recovery.

“How long have you been sober,” the judge asks one man struggling with a long-time drug addiction.

“Eight months now,” the man says proudly.

“Let’s give him a hand,” the judge replies. And the courtroom erupts in applause.

At first glance, the encounter seems more like an Alcoholics or a Narcotics Anonymous meeting than a court appearance. But it’s the weekly routine at Muscogee County’s Adult Drug Court, a program designed to help drug offenders overcome their addictions through the criminal justice system.

Within judicial circles, the drug court is considered an “accountability court,” established to provide effective alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders struggling with substance abuse, mental illness and other issues. Accountability courts — with their treatment plans, drug screening and goal-setting approach — are a growing trend across the United States, expanding court services to case management typically found in the social services arena.

Muscogee County has four accountability courts. In addition to the Adult Drug Court, there’s the Juvenile Drug Court, the Mental Health Court and the Veterans Court. Local judges said those programs are so successful that they’re planning to add two more accountability courts in the near future — one for parents not paying child support and another for families struggling with addiction.

“Accountability courts have really, really come into vogue,” said local Juvenile Drug Court Judge Warner Kennon. “They were the cutting edge when we got started a number of years ago. It's a very hands-on, intensive, court-supervised probation.”

Jordan said accountability courts are a more cost-effective way to deal with non-violent offenders than traditional courtrooms.

“We spend about $50,000 a year to keep someone in prison,” h
e said. “And by putting them out on the street in the community, they become, hopefully, money-earning citizens who can turn themselves around.”

One big proponent of accountability courts is Gov. Nathan Deal, whose son, Jason Deal, is a presiding judge of a drug court in Hall County, Ga., Jordan said.

“He had the foresight to take dollars from prisons and put them into state drug court programs,” he said. “We’ve been able to do this because we have funding sources.”

Dr. Andrew Cox is a licensed addiction counselor who works with the Adult Drug Court as a program and clinical evaluator. He said accountability courts began in 1989 with the first drug court in Miami. Today there are 2,840 drug courts throughout the United States and its territories, serving about 54,777 participants at risk for substance abuse and dependency, according to a recent research paper written by Cox and published by the Forum on Public Policy. The number represents about 10 percent of the 1.2 million adults arrested in the U.S. each year who are at risk for substance abuse and dependence.

“Basically, it arose really as a means to deal with overcrowding in prisons,” Cox said. “A significant amount of prisoners were there because of drug offenses and they weren’t getting any treatment. And, of course, it’s kind of expensive housing people in prison for nonviolent offenses. So they got the idea of starting these drug courts, combining treatment with the criminal justice system.”

Soon, mental health courts were established, and veterans courts followed, providing mental health and substance abuse services to veterans and active duty military personnel facing criminal prosecution.

Many participants in the various accountability courts have a combination of mental health and substance abuse problems, Cox said, and it takes a holistic approach to address their needs.

“The people in mental health court also have co-occurring substance abuse disorder,” he explained. “And then many of the veterans have co-occurring disorders of mental health coupled with substance abuse. Even with the drug courts, a significant proportion of the people have a co-occurring mental health disorder — depression, anxiety, that kind of thing.”

Cox said many individuals in the Adult Drug Court have a long history of substance abuse. In Muscogee County, the average age for participants is early to mid-30s, and the average age that they started using drugs is somewhere around 13 or 14.

“For many of these people, it’s the first time they’ve had a stable situation, where they’ve worked, had an apartment, rented a house,” he said. “Drug courts do not take people who pose a risk to the community. So they don’t take violent offenders, people that are convicted of an assault or have a gun charge or some type. They focus solely on those who have some sort of legal charge that involve substance abuse, or they were engaging in some sort of behavior to support their substance abuse history.”

Kennon said many of the cases that he sees in the Juvenile Drug Court involve not just youths but also parents suffering from addiction. That’s why he’s currently seeking funding to launch the family dependency court.

“The family treatment court would allow me to wrap my arms around the whole family situation and I think that would help break the cycle,” he said.

Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride said the parent child support court will be another way to help families trapped in the judicial system and also address the foster care crisis in the community. He said the new court, scheduled to start in the Spring, will be the first civil accountability court in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.

“The legislature and the Governor have come up with funding for a caseworker to help these parents — usually dads but some moms, too — to reconnect with their children, to find employment, to get job training skills and other things that are part of the problem,” he said.

Many of the accountability courts go beyond supervisory services provided in the courtroom.

In addition to city Crime Prevention and state funds, Muscogee County’s Adult Drug Court recently received a competitive federal grant, amounting to a total of $975,000. The grant, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, provides $325,000 annually, renewable for up to three years.

Dayna Solomon, adult drug court coordinator, said the money is being used to add 30 to 40 additional cases, provide 16 transitional housing beds for program participants, and establish the court’s own medication assistance program in partnership with New Horizons Behavioral Health.

The medication assistance program will focus on treating people with opiate and heroin addictions, primarily using an opioid blocker called Vivitrol, which is injected once-a-month.

Solomon said the services are very much needed in the community and the court is developing a sustainability plan to continue with the services after the three-year grant period.

Even before receiving the grant, the Adult Drug Court had its own drug screening lab at the Government Center, where participants are screened three to five times per week. It’s also used by the mental health court.

The Adult Drug Court is held every Wednesday in Jordan’s courtroom. Participants go through a five-phase program and are rewarded for their progress at every level. In addition to regular drug screenings and treatment, they’re also required to set goals and keep journals, which the judge reads in court.

Each case is managed by a team that consists of court personnel, a caseworker, someone from the District Attorney’s Office, and mental health and substance abuse professionals. When all phases are completed, participants graduate out of the program. The next graduation will be held Dec. 20.

Jordan said individuals with a history of gang activity or violent crime aren’t allowed in the program. Prospective participants are referred by private attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement officers, relatives and other sources. To participate, they must be approved by the District Attorney’s Office.

The program has reduced the recidivism rate among Adult Drug Court participants by 78 percent, Jordan said. And that’s one of the biggest benefits of accountability courts.

“We are taking those people who are in and out of jail constantly,” said Solomon. “That’s how we’re saving the state and the taxpayers’ dollars. We’re taking the people who should be incarcerated otherwise.”

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/article120272918.html#storylink=cpy

New Muscogee DFCS director introduced at foster care community forum

This article was originally published in the Ledger-Enquirer.

Delbert Montgomery, the new director of the Muscogee County Department of Family and Children Services, made his first public appearance Monday as head of the agency.

Judge Warner Kennon, presiding judge of the juvenile courts of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, introduced Montgomery at a foster care community forum held in a courtroom at the Government Center. The forum was organized by Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride to update the community about the foster care crisis that has plagued the community the past few months.

Montgomery is the latest among several directors to run the agency in recent years. He replaces Jena Jones, who became interim director in October 2015. Jones was one of about four interim directors to head the department since 2012 when Deborah Cobb, a former acting director, and Phyllis Mitchell, an intake supervisor, were arrested for allegedly falsifying information.

At the meeting, Kennon announced the creation of a new church-based nonprofit to help recruit and support foster families, and Montgomery expressed enthusiasm for the project.

“I’m glad to be here, it’s an honor,” he said. “It’s also good, you know as a Christian man, to see that we’ve got the Christian community stepping up. ..I offer myself and my staff to any of you that are thinking about partnering with this initiative for foster care in this community.”

Kennon said it’s good to finally have some permanency in the department.

“We’ve had some good interim directors, but we’re glad to have a permanent director,” he said. “Thus far, you’ve hit the ground running and we appreciate that. Anything that we can do as judges to help you, we very much want to do that.”

In addition to Kennon and McBride, those in attendance included NAACP President Tonza Thomas, Project Rebound Director J. Aleem Hud, as well as Juvenile Judges Andy Dodgen and Joey Loudermilk.

There were 424 children in the Muscogee County foster care system as of Saturday and only 67 homes and 151 beds, according to information provided by Kennon and DFCS representatives. Still, the number is a significant decrease from about 540 children at the beginning of the year. Kennon said 224 foster children have been placed in Muscogee County and 52 in nearby counties. The rest have been dispersed throughout the state.

“The problem, of course, with the others is even more egregious because those children are placed further away,” Kennon said. “And it’s very difficult for the families and the children to work a case plan.”

Kennon said the new church-based nonprofit, Covenant Foster Care Coalition Inc., will have its first executive board meeting on Thursday. The organization, spearheaded by Calvary Christian Church, will also have an advisory board that will be open to the community.

“There are 450 churches in Columbus,” he said. “So you see real quick, if one church could take one child, it’s over. It’s easier said than done, but that is our goal.”
Covenant Foster Care Coalition was created after an Atlanta-based organization, Faithbridge, pulled out of plans to mobilize Columbus churches to address the foster care problem.
Local churches raised about $90,0000 for the project, said Rev. Jeff Struecker, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, in a previous interview. He said Calvary raised $40,000 and the rest of was donated by other churches and private donors. When Faithbridge decided to pull out of the area, they offered to return the money to those who requested it. Some donors opted to have the money returned, and others asked for their money to go to a nonprofit created to address the problem. So about $50,000 was sent to Calvary Baptist, which put it in a separate account.

McBride said the foster care numbers have dropped because DFCS and judges have been more successful at placing children with family members.

Community leaders commended the judges and DFCs and judges on the progress and offered additional advice on how to resolve the crisis. McBride said the group would try to meet again in February.

Prior to position as Muscogee DFCS Director, Montgomery served as director of multiple programs with the Department of Juvenile Justice, according to DFCS. He oversaw the operations of the Residential Services Division at the Jackson County Family Court, Sumter Youth Development Campus, Marietta Regional Detention Center and the Beloit Correctional Facility.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and has experience implementing various programs, as well as human resources management experience, according to DFCS officials.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/article119016303.html#storylink=cpy

Columbus churches create nonprofit to solve foster care crisis

This article was originally published in the Ledger-Enquirer.

When area churches became aware of a foster care crisis in Muscogee County, several of them responded by donating money to an Atlanta-based nonprofit.

Faithbridge Foster Care, a Christian child placement organization, received about $90,000 from area churches and private donors, said the Rev. Jeff Struecker, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

However, earlier this year the nonprofit changed leadership and decided to restrict its services to the Atlanta area. That led Calvary and other area churches to begin developing a local nonprofit, called Covenant Foster Care Coalition Inc., to recruit and support foster families in the Columbus area. Struecker said the group is still completing the final paperwork for 501c3 status.

“... The immediate goal of this coalition is to get churches in our community to say, ‘Alright, we see the problem, and we’re going to do something about the problem,’ ” he said.

In Muscogee County, there are 412 children in foster care, said Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride. The number is down from a few months ago when there were 538 children in foster care and only 67 foster homes available. At the time, about 275 of the children were being placed in nearby counties, and 250 were scattered throughout other parts of the state.

Local judges such as McBride and and Juvenile Court Judge Warner Kennon have been at the forefront of spreading awareness about the problem and asked Faithbridge to help galvanize churches to recruit and support foster care families.

McBride said he will hold a forum on Dec. 5 to update stakeholders about the issue. The meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Government Center in the 11th floor courtroom. The new director of the Muscogee County Department of Family and Children Services is expected to be introduced.

Struecker said Calvary Baptist raised $40,000 for the Faithbridge project, and the rest of the $90,000 was donated by other churches and private donors. When Faithbridge decided to pull out of the area, they offered to return the money to those who requested it. Struecker said some donors opted to have the money returned, and others asked for their money to go to a nonprofit created to address the problem. So about $50,000 was sent to Calvary Baptist, which put it in a separate account.

“It’s not being used for anything or any reason until the community decides what to do next,” he said.

Struecker said about eight churches donated money to the project and 14 have expressed an interest in getting involved. Covenant Foster Care Coalition Inc. already has a board composed of area church representatives and other community leaders. He said Faithbridge is a good organization and handled the money with integrity, but a lesson was learned.

“We learned there’s a lot of good that an outside organization could do, and they come with lots of skills, lots of experience, but they’re still outsiders,” he said. “Columbus has the ability to fix this problem itself. We don’t need outsiders, what we need is churches in Columbus to say, ‘We’re going to do something about it,’ and the problem would be resolved. That’s what this Covenant Foster Care Coalition, Inc. is designed to do.”

There are 440 churches in the Chattahoochee Valley area, Struecker said. If each church fostered at least one child, the problem would be solved overnight.
“There are more churches than children in need,” he said. “Even a church of ten can be fostering right now. It’s not the size of the church. It’s not the size of the budget. If you have no money to do this, but a heart to do it, the court system and the government subsidizes foster care through DFCS.”

Some churches have run into a jurisdiction problem when trying to recruit prospective parents.

“Somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of our church lives in Alabama and comes to worship at Calvary Baptist Church,” he said. “This is probably true of most churches in our community. It’s a violation of the law to take a foster child across the state lines, which means you cannot foster (in Georgia) if you live in Alabama and worship at a church in Columbus.”

He said that problem could be resolved through an interstate compact between Georgia and Alabama. But the compact would have to be approved by both state houses and signed into law by both governors.

“We believe this is a battle that probably needs to be fought,” he said. “We’re trying to raise the awareness in Georgia and Alabama.”

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/article117222183.html

Legitimation Station fights for unwed dads


It started in the Government Center with volunteers helping fathers obtain legal rights to their children.

Now, the Legitimation Station has a full-time administrator and a new location.

Edward Berry, a local attorney who volunteered with the program for several years, is now running the station.

In addition to helping fathers with legitimation, Berry is also administrator for judges in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which covers six counties, said Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride. He also oversees mediation for domestic relations cases throughout the circuit.

Berry replaces Larry Love, who served as judicial circuit administrator for many years, said McBride. The Legitimation Station was added to the job as part of an effort to enhance the program.

McBride said Berry’s position is being funded by a $10,000 grant the program recently received from the city’s Crime Prevention Office, and another $10,000 from the city. It’s also funded by court filing fees, which make up between 80 to 90 percent of Berry’s salary.

Berry works out of the Office of Dispute Resolution located at 308 10th Street, where the Legitimation Station is now open 9 a.m. to noon on the first, second and third Fridays of the month.

“The law in Georgia is that if a child is born out of wedlock — in other words, the parents are not married — then that child is deemed an illegitimate child,” said Berry, who has practiced domestic law in Georgia and Alabama for 30 years. “And in order for the father to have any legal rights to the child, even any visitation to the child, there needs to be a legitimation.

“We have volunteers that come in. We have computers. We have forms. We have printers,” he said. “And when they leave here, after they’ve been here for an hour or so, they will leave here with a complete packet in an envelope that they can file in order to start the legal process for their children to become legitimated.”

The Legitimation Station was launched in 2009 by McBride and Lauren Mescon, an attorney and former family judge. It started as a once-a-month program located at the Law Library in the Government Center, and recently moved to the new location.

Here are a few more details Berry wants people to know about the Legitimation Station:

  • The Legitimation Station doesn’t represent fathers in court: Berry said fathers who participate in the program are actually filing a lawsuit against the mother of their biological child. Volunteer paralegals and attorneys help the fathers prepare the necessary documents, which include a petition, a child support worksheet, a parenting plan and other the ancillary documents. But it’s the father’s responsibility to file the documents with the court in the county where the mother lives and to serve as his own attorney.
  • Doors close an hour early. Though the Legitimation Station is open from 9 a.m. to noon on the Fridays that it’s available, the program stops taking clients at 11 a.m. because it takes about an hour to prepare the paperwork, Berry said. So fathers must be there on time.
  • It’s a need-based program. The services are only available to fathers who can’t afford to hire an attorney to help them prepare the paperwork, and they must prove financial need in order to qualify.

For more information, call 706-653-4190.

Read more and watch the video here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/latest-news/article94701742.html

Local law enforcement and organizations re-sign child abuse protocol 

BY wrbljoeyripley

COLUMBUS, GA - Several local law enforcement agencies and organizations are banding together to solve the issue of child abuse and neglect. Men and women from across the Chattahoochee Valley gathered at the Columbus Government Center to re-sign protocol laying out how to deal with reported cases of child neglect in the region.

Judge Gil McBride oversees the Judicial Circuit, which consists of most of the News 3 viewing area. McBride says after an initial agreement was made three years ago, re-signing allows for more organizational efficiency needed to solve the issue of abuse across six different counties.

“In the court system, we probably handle more cases involving families, and especially children, than all of the other cases put together,” McBride said.

Court Appointed Special Advocate coordinator Rosalind Alston says on the heels of the CASA 5K run over the weekend, it’s important to get the community involved in resolving child abuse.

“The community collaboration is key, from the point of initial call being made about the suspicion of child abuse all the way down to the investigation, to if the child may be placed in foster care,” Alston said.

Alston adds that even though some families may struggle financially or an individual may not feel compelled to help children, anyone can play a positive role in reporting child abuse by simply knowing what to do. At the end of the protocol re-signing, participants planted silver and blue pinwheels in the Government Center lawn to represent the 337 children reportedly neglected and abused in the state of Georgia.

Read more and watch the video at http://wrbl.com/2016/04/18/local-law-enforcement-and-organizations-re-sign-child-abuse-protocol/

WTVM Editorial 4/8/16: Judges speak truth to teens 

BY Holly Steuart, General Manager

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - In Macon, there is a new video superstar. Her name is Judge Verda Colvin, and her recent lecture to a special group of at risk kids about the grim consequences of a life of crime or other poor life choices was posted online and immediately went viral.

We hope everyone hears her message.

A Superior Court judge and a single mom, Colvin told the kids in her courtroom who are part of a special diversion program that jail is a place of unspeakable violence and fear.

Judge Colvin showed the teens a body bag, warning them they could well end up dead if they didn't start respecting themselves and others.

The judge's heartfelt and very direct message brought some of the teenagers to tears.

Judge Colvin is part of bib county’s program called "consider the consequences" and the teens who sign up must put on a prison jumpsuit, visit a jail cell, and write letters of apology to their families and agree to follow up counseling to make sure the message sticks.

Every community should have a Judge Colvin.

In Columbus, Superior Court Judge Gil McBride told a group of National Honor students at Chattahoochee County High School that Georgia’s mandatory attendance rules will help every student have a shot at success.

As Judge McBride told them, the essence of perfect attendance is to get the benefit of school, first by always showing up.

These two judges are speaking the truth to teens. Their message is simple, but profound: have self-respect, follow the rules, and use your God-given talents to build a foundation for a solid life.

It’s a message needed more now than ever.

We hope everyone is listening.

Read more and watch the video at http://www.wtvm.com/story/31681000/wtvm-editorial-4816-judges-speak-truth-to-teens

Superior Court judge addresses Chattahoochee County High School students 

BY WTVM Web Team

CHATTAHOOCHEE COUNTY, GA (WTVM) - High school students in Chattahoochee County received an important lesson from a very special guest that visited their high school.

Georgia Superior Court Judge Gil McBride was the guest speaker at a ceremony Wednesday at Chattahoochee County High School.

McBride was there to honor students being inducted in the National Honor Society, and he also spoke to the students to raise awareness on mandatory attendance in Georgia public schools.

He says it's very important for those who are in public office to speak with young people about following the right path in life.

“Much of what is important in life is just showing up,” McBride said. “That is the essence of perfect attendance. It really does no matter how much skill you have or how much knowledge you have or what you bring to the table. If you can't come to school and learn you are not going to get the benefit of what an education offers.”

McBride is a Columbus native who was first elected to the Superior Court back in 2008. 

Read more and watch the video at http://www.wtvm.com/story/31661042/superior-court-judge-addresses-chattahoochee-county-high-school-students

Justice Reform Team holds second foster care forum

FEBRUARY 19, 2016
BY wrblalexderencz

COLUMBUS, Ga.- Inside the courtroom of Judge Gil McBride, members of the Justice Reform Team, citizens and others gathered to speak on trying to better the foster care system for the area. This was the second meeting to discuss the problem.

They hope to increase the number of foster parents and decrease the number of children in foster care.

Currently, there are more than 530 kids in foster care in Muscogee County; three times more than where it was four years ago. Advocates say that once solutions are in place to help the issues, it will make a big impact. “It’s going to be very heartwarming to know that the effort that we’ve made not only today, but ongoing and moving forward has truly impacted our community so that our children are not only here in Columbus, not only here in Muscogee County but so that we see stability so that we really see a decrease in the number of children who have situations that escalate to a need for foster care,” DFCS Regional Director of District 8, Marva Reed said.

Foster Care Forum

The next meeting is scheduled for March 25th at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Gil McBride’s courtroom on the 11th floor of the Government Center.

Read more at http://wrbl.com/2016/02/19/justice-reform-team-holds-second-foster-care-forum/

2016 Rapid Resolution prisoner program focuses on judicial efficiency 

FEBRUARY 3, 2016

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Columbus judges and attorneys are announcing their goal to process at least 500 cases in 2016, and it's all through the Rapid Resolution program.

Since its inception six months ago, more than 330 cases have been closed. As a result, a foyer in the Muscogee County jail was shutdown saving taxpayers close to $500,000.

"The process for our case was very, very quick, within a couple of weeks a trial date set," says Deborah Pfeiffer, a victim in a case that was processed through the rapid resolution program.

Pfeiffer says she's thankful that her family received closure in less than four months. Her case would have taken about eight months, according to Judge Gil McBride.

"It was a blessing, it was really a blessing" says Pfeiffer.

Judge McBride says in just six months the Rapid Resolution program has already made the Muscogee County justice system more efficient by shortening the time it takes to resolve cases that are nonviolent or low level offenses.

"So you might have a simple theft by shoplifting that is on pace with a home invasion rape case so it didn't seem fair for them to take the same amount of time," says District Attorney Julia Slater.

Now the DA along with the Muscogee County judges, and public defenders can devote their time to the more complicated cases.

The Rapid Resolution program was launched in July of 2015 closing nearly 400 cases before the end of the year with funding from the sheriff's office.

The goal for 2016 is to process between 500 to 600 cases. These cases will provide relief to the trial judges by lightening their workload, save tax payers money by cutting down the number of inmates in the county jail and bring closure to victims quicker.

"The positive impact it has on victims. We've moved over 400 cases and over half of those cases have victims," says Slater.

One misconception many people have about rapid resolution is that it means rapid release and McBride says that's not true.

According to the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office, out of 327 cases that went through the program last year, 138 of defendants were released the same day. Also, 46 were released on a later date, 75 were sentenced to prison, 28 sentenced to jail in another county, 25 were returned to jail and 15 were sentenced to a rehab facility.

So how does it work? A designated team will evaluate lower level cases and if they meet a certain criteria, the defendant would bypass the indictment or arraignment process. This could eliminate two to six months of time spent waiting on trial.

Judge McBride says he is meeting with the DA and public defender this week to discuss their goal for 2016 of processing more than 500 cases.

Read more and watch the video at http://www.wtvm.com/story/31125168/2016-rapid-resolution-prisoner-program-focuses-on-judicial-efficiency

Columbus leaders seek solutions for high foster care stats

JANUARY 29, 2016

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - On Friday, Muscogee County Judges met with DFACS, clergy, and community leaders to brainstorm solutions for the considerably high amount of Muscogee County children in foster care.

According to DFACS, there are 538 Muscogee County children today living in foster care, which is higher than other counties of similar size.

"What types of support might be put into place that would prevent kids from coming into foster care period," says Marva Reed Regional Director of DFACS.

Reed says the majority of the children in foster care in Columbus are under the age of three, and of the more than 500 kids, 85 are between ages 13-15 and 52 are between ages 16-18.

She says the system disproportionately impacts African-Americans with more than 60 percent being black, 30 percent white, four percent Hispanic, another four percent multi-racial and less then one percent are Asian.

"What are the factors? What is it that contributes to this huge difference?" asked Reed.

Substance abuse, single parent homes, and poverty are all common denominators among foster children according to Reed.

Friday's meeting also served for a chance to examine the DFACS intake process where workers are required to go through an intense 46 weeks of training.

"Since most of our workers come from middle class backgrounds, we really don't understand these families in poverty and these family with generational dysfunction," says Rosalind Alston, a court-appointed special advocate.

When examining a long term plan, Alston says "we must consider less than three percent of foster children go to college."

So in addition to lowering the number of foster care children in Muscogoee County, she says long term resources also need to be developed.

"We can not fail at this," says Licensed Professional Counselor Edward Dubose.

Dubose was recently contacted by a former foster child he counseled.

"I don't know if you really remember me, but I remember you. You really helped me, you really changed my life. I was just calling to give you an update I am about to graduate from college," the foster child told Dubose.

The next meeting will be held Friday Feb. 19 at 1:30 p.m. inside of the Columbus Government Center. Community leaders say they will discuss proposed solutions, including a Columbus faith-based initiative.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, call 1-877-210-KIDS.

Read more and watch the video at http://www.wtvm.com/story/31095308/columbus-leaders-seek-solutions-for-high-foster-care-stats

Discussing foster care in Muscogee County

JANUARY 29, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ga. – There are 538 foster children in Muscogee County as of Friday, January 29, which is a major concerns for leaders and community members. The Justice Reform group met in Columbus Friday to discuss the foster care issue in Muscogee County.

Edward DuBose attended that meeting. He is a counselor for children in foster care and their families.

“This is a serious business that we’re dealing with and I think once we understand what these families go through, not just the children. When children are pulled away from families everybody suffer,” DuBose said.

There are 147 foster care homes in Muscogee County for the 500 plus foster care children here. Judge Gil McBride’s goal is to keep more of these children in Muscogee County instead of sending them all over the state.

“Just to make certain that these kids who unfortunately will be in foster care are at least able to go their own schools and be in their own churches and be around their own friends and try to maximize what continuity is good in those kids lives,” McBride said.

Mitch McGinnis is a foster care parent. He’s had five foster care children.

“We understand it as a calling from God that we are called to be foster parents in this child’s life for this amount of time. It may be weeks or months or years and so we kind of understand that going in that it’s going to be hard,” McGinnis said.

There is a list of requirements for becoming a foster parent in Georgia. Some of the requirements include background checks, meeting home safety requirements and attending a training class. Click here for a full list of all of those requirements.

Read more and watch the video here: http://wrbl.com/2016/01/29/discussing-foster-care-in-muscogee-county/

Junior Marshal's program students participate in mock trial 

JANUARY 16, 2016

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Students of the Muscogee County Junior Marshal's program got an inside look at what happens in the courtroom.

On Saturday morning, the students had the opportunity to take part in a mock trial.

Superior Court Judge Gil McBride hosted the educational event inside his courtroom at the Government Center.

The mock trial is designed to give the Junior Marshals an overview of the functions of the courts and emphasize the consequences of bad choices and behavior.

The Junior Marshal's program mentors middle schools students for two years to help students develop pride, confidence, a sense of belonging, direction, responsibility, and goal-setting techniques.

Marshal Greg Countrymen says since the program began, none of the student have gotten in trouble with the law.

Read more at http://www.wtoc.com/story/30984123/junior-marshals-program-students-participate-in-mock-trial

Press Release 1-16-16

Article Jan. 2016

Group to survey all Muscogee County Jail inmates in 2016 to help reduce overcrowding 

DECEMBER 18, 2015
BY ALVA JAMES-JOHNSON - A@ledger-enquirer.com        

A local initiative to survey every inmate at the Muscogee County Jail will begin in February, a local attorney announced this week.

Katonga Wright, managing partner with the Wright Legal Group, unveiled the Muscogee County Jail Project Thursday at a community meeting in the chambers of Superior Court Judge Gil McBride.

Wright, chairwoman of the committee launching the project, said the initiative is being spearheaded by the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Fountain City Bar Association, a group comprising local black attorneys.

Wright said the goal of the project is to help alleviate overcrowding at the Muscogee County Jail in conjunction with a Rapid Resolution Initiative launched by the district attorney and public defender in partnership with other government agencies and community organizations.

She said the RRI program has helped move inmates through the legal system more efficiently, "but we also recognize that there are some issues that need to be resolved."

Wright said the Muscogee County Jail Project is based on a similar initiative in Fulton County that she participated in while still in law school.

It was the result of "some horrible conditions, overcrowding, inmate violence, staff shortages and health hazards," she said. "It was a retroactive approach to try to solve some problems that were already there.

"We're not saying Muscogee County Jail has those type of problems, but what we're saying is, 'Let's take a retroactive approach to figure out how to not get there,'" she said, "figure out how we can make our jail better. And the overall goal is to reduce the inmate population."

Wright said members of the committee include, among others, McBride, Columbus Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes; the Rev. Richard Jessie of the NAACP; J. Aleem Hud of Project Rebound; and Monica Echols, the local liaison for Gov. Nathan Deal's prisoner re-entry program in Columbus. All five were at Thursday's meeting.

Steve Craft, chief assistant public defender, also was present. He in an earlier interview with the Ledger-Enquirer said that RRI already is making progress. Inmate reductions have led to officials recently closing one of the floors at the jail, he said, but it's still too early to determine if that will continue.

"The overall pending felony inmate numbers are down, and there's a significant number of people waiting for the Department of Corrections to come pick (them) up. And if they don't pick them up soon, then they become an expense to the state and the sheriff gets some reimbursement for those people."

He said the Muscogee Jail Project will enhance the work officials are doing through RRI by gathering hard data that can be analyzed.

"Any time we can identify any kind of trend, averages, or program areas that only helps everybody," he said. "It helps city officials from the budget side. It helps judges to have a better understanding. It shows the prosecutors and the defense attorneys what things they can be looking at, and it helps the jail address the jail population."

Wright said the group would be working closely with the sheriff, public defender and district attorney offices to get a better understanding of what's happening to those incarcerated. She said the project would analyze the pre-arrest, pre-indictment and post-release stages of the legal process. The group also would be recruiting volunteers to help with the surveys, she said.

Wright said some people belong in jail, but the group will look closer at the system to see if there are other alternatives for others who may not need to be incarcerated. It will investigate how long it takes suspects to see an attorney, how bonds are set and other procedures. The study will also focus on ways to safely reintegrate inmates back into society.

"The community will benefit overall, obviously, from having people who can be processed faster and reintegrated back into the working population of our community," she said. "We don't typically benefit in any way having somebody sitting in jail who could be working and providing resources and time to their family."

Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.
Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/crime/article50613350.html#storylink=cpy

Newsroom Article December 2015

Newsroom Article December 2015-2

Newsroom Article

'Rapid Resolution' has paid rapid dividends for city

Published by Ledger-Enquirer.com

Criminal justice reform has been a high priority in Georgia over the past few years, with some impressive results. Common-sense alternative sentencing policies have begun to ease the strain on overpopulated prisons and court caseloads.

If it has worked at the state level, why not try something similar closer to home?

Columbus has done just that. Back in the spring, a group attorneys, judges and others advocating something called the Rapid Resolution Initiative approached Columbus Council with the prediction that the program would not only help ease the population of the Muscogee County Jail, but could come close to paying for itself in the process. A yearly investment of $458,000, they estimated, would save about $440,000 in jail costs.

Council gave it a thumbs-up, and the Rapid Resolution Initiative officially began in July. The program is designed to do pretty much what its name says: It expedites the more straightforward cases through the process so a suspect or inmate can be freed, fined or transferred, if the case so warrants, rather than just languishing indefinitely (and expensively, and in some cases unjustly) in the jail.

The early results -- early as in less than half the year for which the city put up the money -- are beyond the most optimistic predictions. Council was told at this week's regular meeting that Rapid Resolution has already saved about $406,000 in direct jail costs, and an amount in jail medical costs to zero out the rest of what the city budgeted for the program.

Not surprisingly, it's getting stellar reviews from both sides of the criminal justice "aisle." District Attorney Julia Slater said one of the effects of the program's success has been greater efficiency in her office. In "victim cases," she said, quicker resolution means "if there is restitution that is owed, we can get an order on those cases."

Chief Assistant Public Defender Steve Craft, who along with Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride and others helped design the program, told council that in the four and a half months of operation, Rapid Resolution has dealt with almost 300 cases that were processed in an average of 43 days - less than one-fifth the time it would otherwise have taken. He estimated that Rapid Response has already saved Columbus the equivalent of 400 jail days, at more than $10 a day, times the number of cases.

It has also resulted in a Muscogee County Jail inmate population that has not been at maximum capacity since the program began.

The obvious (and legitimate) concern, as there always is with matters of crime and punishment, is the danger of a turnstile system more concerned with savings than with safety - or, as Craft put it, a "catch-and-release" program.

So far, he said, fewer than 1 percent of those processed through Rapid Resolution have come back into the system. Even with a small sample, that's an encouragingly small number.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/opinion/article45376908.html#storylink=cpy

New program to control jail population has paid for itself

NOVEMBER 17, 2015
BY MIKE OWEN - mowen@ledger-enquirer.com        

Back in April, Columbus Council was pondering whether to implement an aggressive experiment in holding down jail population by more efficiently moving people through the system.

The supporters of what they called the Rapid Resolution Initiative told council during budget hearings that, while the program would cost taxpayers about $458,000 a year, it would save about $440,000. And that was a conservative estimate, the supporters said.

Council approved the program and it was put into place in July. Four and a half months later, some of those same supporters were back before Council Tuesday night to report that the program has already saved at least as much as it cost.

Attorney Steve Craft, chief public defender, was one of those early supporters and one of the designers of the program. He told councilors Tuesday night that the program has saved an estimated $406,000 in the cost of physically housing the prisoners in the county jail, and enough in prisoner medical bills to easily cover the rest of the cost, and more.

“We have covered the cost of the program in four and a half months,” Craft said.

Craft said the program has done what they had envisioned it doing: moving the simpler cases rapidly through the system so the prisoner could be either released if the case wasn’t sufficient, fined, moved on the county or state prison or released to other jurisdictions that have warrants on them.

In all, the program has dealt with 296 Muscogee County Jail inmates who would have spent an average of 240 days in the process, but were now processed in just 43 days. Multiplied by the number of cases, Craft said the program saved the equivalent of more than 400 jail days, which at a conservative estimate of $10 a day, produces the $406,000 in savings.

It has also kept the inmate population below maximum capacity since its inception.

District Attorney Julia Slater said in addition to the savings, the program has not only made her office more efficient, but it has had a positive effect on victims of crime, too.

“Of all the cases that you’re going to be hearing about today, 147 of those were victim cases,” Slater said. “That is, there has been a main victim of the crime who, because of the Rapid Resolution program, has been able to move into closure. If there is restitution that is owed, we can get an order on those cases.”

Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride oversees the program and was one of its architects. He was supposed to address council tonight, but a case he is hearing went to jury in Harris County, so he could not make it.

Councilors were pleased by the news, to say the least.

“I had no doubt that this was going to work when it was explained to us,” Councilor Pops Barnes said. “We see the phenomenal savings, but even more important is the impact on the individual families of the prisoners who were going to languish. That was my concern.”

“Wow,” said Councilor Judy Thomas. “I’m kind of like Councilor Barnes. I thought when we first talked about this that it really had potential, but boy does it ever.

Thomas asked Craft about how the legal community has accepted the program.

“Initially, there was a little push-back, because there was the whole idea that it was a catch-and-release program, and we’re just going to be turning people out and they’ll be coming right back.”

Instead, Craft said, less than 1 percent of the inmates released through the program have come back into the system.

“Some people are just going to come back, whether you give them a week in jail or 10 years in jail, they’re going to come back,” Craft said. “That’s a simple reality. You can’t do anything about some of those cases.”

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/article45294375.html#storylink=cpy

Officials sign sexual assault protocol for Chattahoochee area

NOVEMBER 10, 2015
- srobinson@ledger-enquirer.com

Officials gathered at the Government Center Tuesday afternoon to approve the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit’s sexual assault protocol.

Members of the circuit's sexual assault protocol committee and Chief Judge Gil McBride III signed the memorandum of agreement, which details the procedures to be followed when "investigating, collecting evidence, paying for expenses related to evidence collection, and prosecuting cases arising from alleged sexual assault cases," according to Georgia law.

"What this brings is some uniformity to reporting a crime that is unreported too often," McBride said. "...So when the cases are ready for the state to take a look at and determine if they want to pursue with a prosecution, there is an apples-to-apples comparison. You don't wind up with one police department handling it this way and the sheriff's office handing it quite a different way."

The Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit’s sexual assault protocol, which hasn't been publicly released, addresses victim-centered responses, reporting requirements, financial resources, sensitivity to the victims and more. Georgia law states that each judicial circuit is required to establish a committee designed to create the sexual protocol.

"If you've got a protocol in place, then more people within the circuit will be aware of it so that we can provide those services to friends, family and victims of sexual assault," said Kyle Bair, director of the Sexual Assault Support Center. "We've been functioning much under pretty much a verbal agreement with the Georgia protocol since 1996, but it was time to get it written."

Bair reminded committee that the document is still subject to revisions. She encouraged the members to continue to study the protocol and suggest any changes or additions they deem appropriate.

"Let's make a difference for the sexual assault victims in our area," she said.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/article44179833.html

Junior Marshals Program introduces students to concept of service

October 18, 2015
BY BEN WRIGHT - bwright@ledger-enquirer.com

With a new school year underway, some middle school students were in class Saturday for the first kick-off meeting of the Junior Marshals Program at the Columbus Government Center.

Cpl. Ezekiel Byrd, manager of the program sponsored by the Muscogee County Marshal's Office, spent about an hour showing 90 students and parents how the mentoring program works.

The 10-year-old program focuses on CLEFT -- for citizenship, leadership, education, fun and teamwork.

The program is designed to encourage Junior Marshals to be public servants and have an understanding of showing compassion for people.

When the program started in 2005, Byrd said Marshal Greg Countryman was concerned about values and fostering development among local youths.

With high school approaching for the students, Byrd said now is the time for them to start thinking about careers.

"It doesn't matter what your circumstances, where you come from or where you live," Byrd said to the crowd on the Government Center plaza. "It does matter that you have the resources. You are going to meet people like the good Samaritan that will help you along the way."

During the school year, Byrd visits the schools twice a month, conducts a monthly meeting and gives each student a service project.

Students with an interest in law will take part in a mock trial with Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Gil McBride presiding in the courtroom.

Muscogee County State Court Judge Ben Richardson also will talk to the Junior Marshals.

Over the years, the students have given blankets to the homeless, put together care packages, held fundraisers and visited the elderly at nursing homes.

"We have done a tremendous amount of work over the years," Byrd said.

Since the program started, no Junior Marshals have been involved in drugs, gang activity or truancy, nor have any dropped out of school, Byrd said.

Timothy Williams, an eighth-grader at Blackmon Road Middle School, said he joined the program when school started. He already has started thinking about his career.

"I will probably just join the military, the Navy," he said.

To learn more about the program, call the Muscogee County Marshal's Office at 706-653-4385 or Byrd at 706-329-0014.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/article39646173.html#storylink=cpy

Muscogee Judge Gil McBride honored for service, commitment to families adopting children

November 9, 2011
BY TIM CHITWOOD - tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

After Muscogee Superior Court Judge Gil McBride got elected to the bench in 2008, he became the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit’s “go-to guy” on adoptions, Chief Superior Court Judge John Allen said Wednesday.

Whenever new judges take office, colleagues wonder what they have to offer, Allen said: “Gil brought a very extensive knowledge about adoption.” McBride was generous with it, too, always taking time to answer questions, speak on the topic to civic groups and ensure the work of securing a child’s place in a new home was done right, Allen said.

The latter alone is invaluable, Allen told about 60 people gathered Wednesday at Columbus’ Green Island Country Club for the Etiquette & Leadership Foundation’s Adoption Awareness Luncheon, part of National Adoption Month. “There is nothing as disruptive as an adoption that takes place and later on is challenged,” Allen said.

For his service to families adopting children, the foundation named McBride its first Champion of Adoption.

McBride told those present the court circuit encompassing the counties of Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot and Taylor typically has 15 times as many divorces as adoptions, an imbalance residents are challenged to change.

Also speaking at the event was former state labor commissioner Michael Thurmond, who has adopted a niece. He said all religions call people of conscience to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked and comfort the abused, and all of that essentially is what families who adopt children do.

The foundation announced a new service Wednesday called Lindsey Kate’s Closet, to which foster and adoptive parents can be referred for new or gently used clothes, personal hygiene products and other necessities, so babies entering foster care will have blankets and diapers, and older children moving to new homes won’t have to haul their belongings in trash bags.

Lindsey Kate’s Closet will be a place where “teens can shop with dignity,” according to Tracie Faison, who started the Etiquette & Leadership Foundation in May and said its newsletter since has drawn 1,500 subscribers.

The foundation cited statistics showing about 107,000 children in foster care as a result of abuse or neglect are eligible for adoption each year in the United States. Their average waiting period for adoption exceeds three years. Eleven percent of them wait five or more years for a permanent home, and about 28,000 reach age 18 without one.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/local/article29211514.html#storylink=cpy