By Daniel Silliman
Deitra Burney-Butler has been appointed as Clayton County's new Juvenile Court Judge.
She will take the bench in January, replacing Tracy Graham-Lawson, who leaves to serve as the county's district attorney.
Burney-Butler is a familiar face in the courthouse, having worked as an assistant district attorney assigned to Juvenile Court since 2003. She said she has worked in the court, and will work, from the bench, to stop the "downward spiral" of youth delinquency and violence.
"I really have a heart, I think, for the children," Burney-Butler said, after accepting the appointment. "The whole,'It takes a village [to raise a child]' concept, I grew up with that. But I think the village concept has gotten lost, and I think the extended family has gotten lost. The things that you used to see that kind of kept kids on the straight and narrow have gotten lost, it seems.
"My challenge is to do what I can to turn that around."
Burney-Butler is a 14-year resident of Clayton County, who lives in Riverdale with her husband, Juan, their 6-year-old son, and her 16-year-old stepdaughter. She was selected by the county's four Superior Court Judges on Thursday, from a field of 15 applicants.
Matthew Simmons, Chief Judge of the Superior Court, said that while the judges interviewed the 15 candidates and selected Burney-Butler, he was thinking of the temperament necessary to be a good juvenile judge.
"You really have to have a true love and concern for kids, in that job," Simmons said. "I think a judge has to have the ability to be open minded and be a good listener. It takes some certain characteristics, like a lot of patience and a willingness to listen. But hose characteristics carry over to any judicial spot, but a juvenile position, you got to have the interest of kids in your heart."
Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske said the Superior Court judges would make "caring about kids" the first priority, in their pick.
"You have to have somebody who really has an interest in children and families," Teske said. "You have to be willing to make that investment in time and energy. You have to be willing not to get soured. We cannot let ourselves become cynical."
Teske said a juvenile judge also has a mandate to reach out to the community, and has to be someone who wants to take an active, leadership role. Burney-Butler said that is actually her first priority, as she looks toward taking her seat on the bench.
"I want to form partnerships with the schools, with parents, with anyone who is interested in children, to kind of brainstorm to see what can we do for these kids," Burney-Butler said.
Burney-Butler's appointment was a little unusual, because it was the first time in recent history when there was a vacancy. When Tracy Graham-Lawson was appointed, she was already an associate judge in the court. When Teske was appointed, he was an associate judge and his position was made full-time.
Simmons said in his 16 years on the bench, he's only dealt with re-appointments, never a vacancy.
"It's not the most fun job, to pick one and turn 14 down," Simmons said. "We pretty much knew all of these candidates. Most of them have appeared in our courts. It was not an easy process, because we had what we considered a lot of good candidates. So it wasn't a quick or easy decision."
The judges spent three months, accepting resumes and applications, and interviewed the 15 on Tuesday, spending four hours on the process, Simmons said.
Burney-Butler, he said, is someone the judges are confident can "continue all the good work that's being done over there, in juvenile court."