"Looking back, I am sure this was the day it all began.”
As Mary pulled her white Lexus sedan into the last parking space in front of the Criminal Justice Center, she whispered “thanks” again to Chris and his generous life insurance policy which paid for a luxury car with luxury air conditioning. At least she would start out cool, even though the quick dash to the courthouse would melt her makeup and frizz her curly hair. It wasn’t just hot in Florida in August. It was pressure cooker hot.
Mary loved her work as a child psychologist in juvenile court. Mondays were the busiest—kids committed crimes all weekend—but she felt up to the task. Digging through her purse for her identification card, she dropped a couple of files. When she looked up with her arms wrapped around bulky paperwork, she spotted the new judge, Kristin Dahlen. The judge looked like a Nordic goddess, not a hair out of place, thin and elegant in an ivory silk blouse that refused to pucker in the heat.
Mary wondered if they would get along in juvenile court. Each judge was different; some better than others. Some liked it, some hated it. This judge was too new on the juvenile bench to figure out.
“Good morning, Judge Dahlen,” Mary said, offering a wide smile.
Kristin looked caught off guard, but quickly recovered. “Good morning, Dr. Visconti. I was just thinking of all the kids we’re going to see today. I’m learning that juvenile court is very busy and, well, very complicated.”
Her electric blue eyes fixed on Mary. Was she really wanting a response?
“It sure is, Judge,” Mary kept the conversation going. “Especially after a weekend. A lot of domestic batteries, family violence, burglaries, car thefts and leftover school crimes.”
As they passed through court security, Kristin turned and lightly touched Mary’s elbow, startling her. “I’ve heard so many good things about you, Dr. Visconti. Maybe you can teach me how to leave these kids at the courthouse door. I can’t stop thinking about them. At home. In the evening. Overnight.”
Mary almost gave the judge a quick hug but stopped herself in time. “That’s the first step to being a good juvenile judge,” she said, nodding approval. “You care about the kids. The rest will come in time.”
Kristin watched Mary juggle her files and step on the escalator to the psychologist’s office. Her own courtroom and judicial chambers were on the same floor. Very close quarters. In the short time she’d been in juvenile, Kristin had heard many good things about Dr. Visconti: her willingness to work hard and dig to the root of the kid’s problems; her compassion for the family; her tenaciousness in balancing the interests of the state, defense and the Department of Juvenile Justice, and her sense of humor. But Kristin wasn’t used to this doctor or any other person popping up in court and make recommendations out loud, before Kristin ruled. She was going to have to make some adjustments that was certain.
Kristin thought back to her three years in adult criminal court. A jury decided guilt or innocence. If the jury found the defendant guilty, the judge had to follow sentencing guidelines. As one gruff senior judge put it, “you’re there to call the balls and strikes. Don’t start feeling like a social worker.” Juvenile court was very different. It was scary how much discretion she had, not only in finding guilt or acquitting, but in carving out sanctions designed to rehabilitate the child. Deep down, all this new power frightened her. True, Dr. Visconti was helpful. No other court had so much psychological advice. But Kristin sometimes found herself resenting her intrusions.
“Good morning, Judge,” a state attorney and a public defender called to her in unison. She recognized them from her courtroom. They stepped back and let her hop onto the escalator first. Kow-towing to the judge whether they meant it or not. Trial lawyers—a staple in every courtroom. She was used to these folks. She just wasn’t sure about Dr. Visconti.