For Judge Billy Waters, leaving his position as Newton County Juvenile Court Judge isn’t so much of a retirement as a changing of office.
Waters, who has steered the Juvenile Court for 11 years, will once again return to working as a barrister at his old general practice law firm, Ballard, Stephenson & Waters. He will join his son at the law firm.
"It’s always been an aspiration for my son and I to practice [law] together," Waters said. "I’m not retiring. I’m just changing offices."
Waters first started practicing law in 1978 after earning his law degree from John Marshall Law School. He left his law firm when he was appointed Juvenile Court Judge in 1997.
"I’m going back and reclaiming my desk. I want it back," said Waters of his intentions regarding his old law office desk, now occupied by his son, Michael.
The position of Juvenile Court Judge will be taken over by Sheri Capes Roberts, who will be sworn into office this morning.
Waters had the following advice for Roberts: "Have a lot of patience and understanding."
Waters said the biggest challenge and focus of the Juvenile Court has to be rehabilitation. This mission is complicated by the fact that the state provides very few services he said.
"The county provides very little services. The mental health services are hard to access, if even available, so you have to develop almost everything that you utilize. You have to find the money and develop programs," he said.
According to Waters, balancing the rehabilitation of youthful offenders with judicial accountability and community safety is a delicate process.
The nature of the crimes that juveniles are coming to his court for has also changed since he first became judge.
"You’re getting more violent crimes and more serious crimes," he said, adding that instances of burglaries, sex offenses and serious drug use are all up in his court. "Without services and programs, it’s going to be very bleak."
Waters said one of the best services to come around recently has been KidsNet Georgia, which provides advocates for juvenile offenders and makes sure they are following through on their probation requirements.
"If all you did was put them on probation and say go get treatment and nobody gets treatment, it’s going to be bleak and that’s what happens in a lot of counties that do not have services," he said.
He had high words of praise for his own staff which has devised a number of programs over the years to close the gap in services not offered by the state.
The Juvenile Drug Court is one example of such a program. Started in 1998, the court is a minimum yearlong drug rehabilitation program.
Another program started by Waters’ office is REACH. It is a 26-week abstinence diversion program. Started in 2003 with funds from the Children and Youth Coordinating Council, the program provides tutoring, nutrition education, life skills, etiquette and abstinence education classes for youth entering the court system for the first or second time.
"We started that as a pilot and it has [spread] throughout the state because other people are utilizing the program that we set up," Waters said.
The Balance and Restorative Justice program is another brainchild of the Juvenile Court. Focusing on first offenders, it utilizes community accountability boards who serve as mediators between the victim and the perpetrator. All involved parties come from the same community.
If the perpetrators are able to successfully complete the program, the charges against them are dismissed. The program deals with minor offenses such as fights, criminal trespassing and petty thefts.
Other programs devised by Waters and his staff include Truancy Court, where children with excessive absences from school are sent to try to resolve the issues that are keeping them from regularly attending school and the Evening Reporting Center, which is an alternative to regular school detention.
"All these programs were put together at very little cost to the county," he said.
The programs wouldn’t work he said if not for the tireless devotion of his staff, which helps to run the programs.