Goldberg proposes reforms for 'dysfunctional' Juvenile Court

In the University Heights council chambers, the regular monthly meeting is already underway when Vice-Mayor Frankie Goldberg rushes in, her curly blonde hair more tousled than usual. She looks a bit stressed as she takes off her coat and settles into her chair, immediately beside the mayor’s. But within minutes, as if somebody flicked the “on” switch, Goldberg is attentive and focused on the issues at hand.

Goldberg doesn’t make a habit of lateness, but an occasional instance is unavoidable for one so busy. Her life encompasses three major roles, each of which could amount to a full-time job: she’s a prosecutor, a University Heights council member with the senior position of vice-mayor, and a mother of four children ranging in age from 8 to 20. To top it off, she has spent the past two years campaigning to become a Juvenile Court judge in the county’s Court of Common Pleas.

Asked in a telephone interview why she would take on this extra role when her life is so obviously full, Goldberg displays a passionate intensity: “I want to change the culture of complacency” at the Juvenile Court, she said. “You know, The Plain Dealer has called it dysfunctional.”

Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew phrase meaning to ‘repair the world,’ has been my mantra during my 21 years in public service,” she said, adding, “I have always advocated for our most vulnerable: our children and seniors.”

She is proposing four major reforms that she thinks will improve things considerably. “First, I would ensure that my court ran efficiently and on schedule,” Goldberg said in a document she sent outlining the reforms. Too many parties involved in court proceedings today are kept waiting for hours because other cases run overtime, she explained.

“Second, I will work to make Juvenile Court more ‘family friendly’,” she added in the document. This could include evening hours at Juvenile Court, establishing satellite courtrooms in neighborhood community centers on a rotating basis, and a “teen court approach” similar to what is done in Geauga and Wood counties, for first-time offenders on minor charges.

Her third promise is to try to schedule case workers’ cases on the same day, so they wouldn’t have to come to court several days a week. Her fourth proposal involves making it easier for lawyers and case workers to file and access court documents by establishing online, password-protected access that ensures privacy.

Her fifth reform, she said in the document, will be to ensure that parties’ next court appearances are scheduled while they are all together in court, so that everyone is aware of them. This, she said, will reduce delays and “continuances” in which the case has to be rescheduled because someone is not ready or able to attend.

 Another priority Greenberg outlined in the document is to work for the establishment of a Family Resource Center to aid families dealing with teen pregnancies, youth in detention or emerging from that experience and trying to find work, or family violence.

In addition, she hopes to reinforce support for “bridge services” to help youth who are at risk for substance abuse. They need more support services that could help them to avoid that fate, she said in the document. Some of those at-risk youth are foster children, whose care ends at age 18, although most young adults need the support of their families for many years after that age.

It has been a long campaign, and the competition is tight. Her opponent, Denise Nancy Rini, has a slight edge on the public endorsements that most people see, such as that of The Plain Dealer, and the four bar associations that run the website, which gives Rini a higher overall score. Goldberg notes that she has a very large list of endorsements herself, and they’re listed on her campaign website, Among these, she notes, “I’m very proud that I’m endorsed by all the police and fire unions.”

Goldberg insists that she is reluctant to see her two-year judicial campaign end. “It’s been two years of meeting some wonderful, wonderful people,” she said, visiting areas of the county she didn’t know before, and establishing new relationships with people who, like herself, care about youth and justice.

“This campaign has been about relationships,” she concluded. She’s hoping those new relationships will come through for her on Nov. 6.

Carrie Buchanan

Carrie Buchanan teaches journalism and related courses in the Tim Russert Department of Communication and Theatre Arts at John Carroll University. 

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Volume 5, Issue 12, Posted 9:02 AM, 10.30.2012