By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — Described as "revolutionary" by Gov. Deal, Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske has been selected one of 48 Henry Toll Fellows for 2013.
The Toll Fellowship Program, named for Council of State Governments founder Henry Wolcott Toll, is one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs for state government officials. Each year, Toll Fellows brings 48 of the nation’s top officials from all three branches of state government to Lexington, Ky., for an intensive six-day, five-night “intellectual boot camp.”
He was nominated by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and got a reference from Deal. A second reference came from former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, a Toll Fellow graduate.
"Judge Teske is a revolutionary and an outstanding public servant," wrote Deal in his letter. "I have called upon him for service on countless boards and commissions during these three years of my first term because I know him to be a thoughtful and diligent leader in the field of juvenile justice."
Teske and Hunstein served together on the commission for criminal justice reform. He served as her adviser on her State of the Judiciary speech where she focused on juvenile justice. Hunstein said Teske is a valuable advocate for kids who get into trouble.
"Like me, Judge Teske believes that our youth deserve second chances," Hunstein wrote. "He understands that teenagers do stupid things, act impulsively and consider themselves immortal. He remembers what he was like as a kid and that he was given a second chance."
A 13-year-old Teske got into trouble at school and feared he would be arrested. Instead, his principal urged police to be lenient.
"The principal assured them the boy would suffer consequences," she wrote. "And at that very moment, the boy learned a lesson in mercy and forgiveness. It was a defining moment in his life."
Teske went on to enlist in the U.S. Navy, become a lawyer and a Juvenile Court judge where he never forgot the second chance he got.
"With every case that comes before him, he asks, 'What would I do if the child before me were my own?'" Hunstein wrote. "And whenever possible, he draws a delinquent child's parents into the rehabilitative process."
Teske's approach to juvenile justice has become a pilot program for courts across the country. In almost 10 years, the number of children arrested in Clayton County schools has dropped 83 percent.
"As he says, 'The juvenile court should be reserved for children who scare us, not for those who make us mad,'" said Hunstein.
Teske said he is excited about his participation in the Aug. 16-21 training.
"I want to become the best public servant I can to the citizens of Georgia, and the Henry Toll Fellowship Program provides the best training to enhance public service skills," he said.