Monday, April 14, 2008
Juvenile files are delayed again
Review board says clerk's office has stymied its work By JENNIFER BROOKS • Staff Writer • April 14, 2008 The Davidson County Juvenile Court clerk's office is again being hit with complaints of long delays in the handing of crucial court records. Members of a volunteer board that reviews foster care cases fired off an angry letter to the court in early April, saying their case reviews had been repeatedly delayed by missing or mislaid files, documents in such bad condition they were falling apart, and court employees who seemed completely unfamiliar with their own filing system. The complaint comes less than a year after Metro Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver was handcuffed and hauled off to jail on contempt of court charges for failing to produce missing case files. Angry court officials said it sometimes took his office months to find court files. This time, the complaint came from members of Foster Care Review Board Number 9, one of a dozen volunteer boards that review the cases of children in the foster care system in Metro. "More and more often, the inability to locate relevant documents within a file is problematic and frustrating as it prevents us from properly executing our responsibilities," four members of Foster Care Review Board No. 9 wrote in a letter to Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green on April 1. In an e-mail obtained by The Tennessean under the state public records law, board members said four court case files failed to arrive in time for the start of their March 31st meeting, forcing them to delay or postpone their review of several cases. Board Chairwoman Frannie Weaver made two trips to the court during the meeting, hoping to track down the case files herself. "On both of Ms. Weaver's visits to request the files, not only was there no sense of urgency in securing the files, in fact the staff appeared to lack any understanding of the necessity in securing the files in a timely fashion," board members wrote. "One clerk was unable to locate one of the files at all without the assistance of a co-worker. A card in the electric retriever which would have indicated its location was missing." Juvenile Court Operations Director Julius Sloss said two of the cases were not in their files because they'd been pulled to appear on the court docket the day before. All but one of the cases were located and brought to the board before their meeting ended, he said. "With the volume of files we deal with, it's not uncommon for files to get misplaced or mishandled," said Sloss, a former Metro councilman who was hired late last year to help straighten out the day-to-day operation of the Juvenile Court clerk's office. Green, who ordered Lineweaver jailed last August for failure to produce court records in a timely manner, said the e-mail was the first indication of new problems in the clerk's office. In recent months, she said, the office seemed to be running much smoother, a change she credited to Sloss. Delays should be few The county Juvenile Court handles tens of thousands of cases a year, everything from juvenile offenders or children removed from unsafe homes to custody disputes. She acknowledged that some paperwork delays and errors are to be expected. "But they should not be several, and they should not be frequent," she said. Lineweaver, a former Metro councilmember who was elected Juvenile Court clerk in 2002, responded to Green's original reprimand by hiring Sloss. In response to the foster care board complaint, Sloss appointed a court employee to act as liaison and try to ensure the court documents reach the board on time for review. Members of the Foster Care Review Board could not be reached for comment. Lineweaver responded to their complaint with an angry e-mail of his own to Green, which was also obtained by The Tennessean. "It befuddles me that neither I, nor my staff, was made aware of the concerns of the members of Board #9, until we received a copy of the April 1, 2008 letter," he wrote. "It is also perplexing as to why the board chair did not request assistance from a member of management, when she felt that a staff member was not conveying a sense of urgency in securing the needed files. As you can see in the attachments, my staff responded immediately and took the necessary steps to allay the Board's concerns." He added: "Further, it is troubling that interoffice correspondence seems to be a figment of one's imagination since too often matters like this seem to fall into the hands of the press."
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