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teen court

Teen Court members are sworn in after graduating training. Submitted photo

The inaugural hearing of the Maricopa Teen Court is slated to begin Aug. 24 inside the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Courtroom.

It’s the first of many for the program, as Maricopa pilots the only teen court in the county. In early August, representatives from Pinal County’s juvenile probation department trained area teenagers who would soon take court positions as peer prosecutors, defense attorneys and victim advocates.

The teen court is billed as a diversion program for young alleged offenders.

Aug. 10, Pinal County Bureau Chief of Juvenile Justice Court and Appeals Tom McDermott swore in eight graduates from the training. Nya Villaverde, Sandra Nith, Steel Lewis, Carlos Aguilar, Dallas Hansen, Dylan Hill and Tayvon King are the first teens in the county to staff such a program.

Pinal County Juvenile Probation Supervisor Teresa Fuller said hearings will take place the fourth Thursday of every month from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

“Volunteers who would like to serve on the teen court jury can attend any teen court hearing to volunteer,” Fuller said.

Jury volunteers must come dressed in court appropriate attire.

For more information contact fuller at tefuller@courts.az.gov or call (520) 866-7061.

Volunteer Rosie Kuzmic teaches teens about the roles of the court clerk and bailiff. Kuzmic has 30 years’ experience working in the court system. Photo by Michelle Chance

Local teenagers participated in the first training for the Maricopa Teen Court Wednesday at Copper Sky.

Nearly 25 students interested in becoming officers of the developing court heard from county legal experts and volunteers familiar with court roles and proceedings.

Pinal County Juvenile Probation Supervisor Teresa Fuller said a majority of the teens in attendance are students of Student Choice High School, a small charter school that operates out of Copper Sky.

Jim Davis, executive director of SCHS, said students will earn an elective credit for their participation in the training and future volunteer work with the teen court.

Davis said the credit opportunity was offered to every student at the school for the educational component the experience brings, but also in the hopes it could inspire career paths.

“The ultimate goal for us is to create an engagement piece so that (students) get to do something that might spark an interest of something in the future that they would do,” Davis said.

The teen court program is just one way the school is looking to collaborate with community agencies. The school is on track to partner with the Maricopa Police Department as well, Davis said.

There are five Student Choice High School locations in Arizona; the Maricopa campus functions as “drop-out recovery,” according to its website.

“Our ultimate goal is to get kids off the streets and to get them to finish their diploma so it impacts the community in a very positive way,” Davis said.

Fuller said teens who registered for the training but did not attend Wednesday’s meeting are still eligible to join the remainder of the trainings Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Copper Sky.

For more information contact Teresa Fuller at tefuller@courts.az.gov or (520) 866-7061.


Maricopa will soon pilot the only teen court in Pinal County.

Teenagers begin a three-day training at Copper Sky on Wednesday, hosted by representatives of the Pinal County Juvenile Probation Department.

Teresa Fuller, juvenile probation supervisor with the county, said teenagers will fill the roles of defense attorney, prosecution, bailiff, victims’ advocate and jury in future cases involving their peers.

“The (hearings) are going to be held by teens, so we are going to go over how to do opening and closing statements, how to present a case, all of that,” Fuller said.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer and Maricopa/Stanfield Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs will be among the local legal experts who will provide some of the training.

Teens will learn the types of cases heard in the court, as well as “what consequences are available within the teen court program or what interventions are available per respondent,” Fuller said.

Fuller’s department began considering Maricopa for a teen court early this year after county data revealed the percentage of teen juvenile referrals in the city had increased slightly over the past two years compared to other cities.

San Tan, Casa Grande and Maricopa hold the highest number of juvenile referrals in the county. Maricopa was the only one that witnessed a rise in teen referrals, while the other two cities saw a decrease in percentages.

In January, Fuller pitched the idea to local government, educational, and community agencies. As a result, three work groups were formed to implement the court, one of which was a panel of teens.

“They wrote their code of conduct, their oath of confidentiality and their dress code,” Fuller said.

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 are eligible to attend training July 26-28 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Copper Sky Recreational Center. Eighteen-year-olds who apply must still be enrolled in high school.

Fuller said teenagers do not have to live in Maricopa to be an officer of the teen court or to attend the training.

To register, contact Fuller at tefuller@courts.az.gov or (520) 866-7061.


By Michelle Chance

A representative from the Pinal County Juvenile Court said the number of juvenile referrals in the City of Maricopa increased more than 3 percent over the last two years.

Referrals in juvenile court are the equivalent to a “police report,” said Teresa Fuller, probation officer supervisor at Pinal County Juvenile Court. Additionally, a report by the Juvenile Justice Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court said referrals can be made by “police, parents, school officials, probation officers,” and others.

Three cities within the county hold the highest number of referrals: San Tan, Casa Grande and Maricopa, Fuller said.

However, over the past two years, the first two cities’ rate of referrals decreased, while Maricopa’s did the opposite.

Fuller said this prompted her department to look into a solution to prevent county youth from entering the juvenile justice system through an alternative diversion program.

The possible solution? Fuller said it could be implementing a new teen court program.

“(Four percent) doesn’t sound like a lot, but if the other areas where you’re getting the majority of referrals are decreasing, this might be a good target population,” Fuller said in regards to focusing on Maricopa to pilot the new program.

On Jan. 5, Fuller held a discussion about adopting a teen court at the Copper Sky Substation with community agencies including: high school and middle school principals, the Maricopa Police Department, Ak-Chin tribal members, representatives from the Department of Child Services and others.

Ricardo Alvarado, public information officer for MPD, said the police department has referred more teens for crimes in its jurisdiction, but said he did not consider it a “spike” in the number or percentage of juvenile referrals.

“We believe (the teen court) is a good concept, but we also want to get parents’ input to find out what they think before we go any further.”

Fuller said the data compiled by the department found there are two main offenses in Maricopa juvenile referrals, but declined to comment on which categories those crimes fall into.

According to the most recent statistical juvenile court report by the Arizona Supreme Court, the top three categories for juvenile referrals statewide between July 2014 and June 2015 were misdemeanor shoplifting, probation violation and simple assault.

Fuller said one major factor in successful teen court programs is the cooperation of community agencies, like local secondary and high schools.

Steve Chestnut, Maricopa Unified School District superintendent, said there has not been a rise in teen delinquency at the district.

“We have not seen an increase in student crime on school grounds or at school activities,” he said.

Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel attended the teen court meeting in early January.

He maintained that school-based incidents at his school have stayed “fairly consistent,” but said he would nevertheless like to see a teen court within the community.

While principal at a school in Idaho, Abel said he cooperated with a teen court program for three years and saw behavioral improvement in the students who were referred there.

Fuller said research shows teens usually do better in teen court, adding, “We found that when youth participate in teen court, as opposed to traditional or diversion or first-time offender programs, they have a lot higher success rates in completing their consequences and not recidivating.”

And although there are many different models for teen courts, Fuller said they are often run by the kids themselves, filling roles as defense attorney, bailiff, jurors and even judge.

“It’s really impactful for that youth who is going through the process because they hold their peers thoughts about them, I think, at a higher regard than they do somebody from the court system.”

Lillian Downing, Dependency supervisor with Pinal County Juvenile Court, said teen courts aid in preventing teens from getting involved in more serious crime and drug use down the road, which has societal benefits.

“Ultimately the whole community benefits by assisting those youth to have better outcomes and to focus their energy on more positive things,” Downing said.

A decision has yet to be been made on whether to adopt a teen court in the city of Maricopa, but future meetings will be held to discuss resources available for the court, who will be in charge of it, and possible models for the program, Fuller said.

If a successful teen court is implemented in Maricopa, Fuller said her department will look into expanding the program into other cities within the county.