Brown County Teen Court celebrates 20 years in action

1,000 cases heard

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Brown County Teen Court Coordinator Mary Ann Wonn talks to a mock teen court jury at a mock court hearing at the 20th year celebration of the program in the Brown County District Courtroom Aug. 15.

NEW ULM — Brown County Teen Court celebrated turning 20 years old with a visit from a number of dignitaries in the Brown County District Courtroom Wednesday.

In 1998, Brown County Probation started the juvenile diversion program in which trained adolescents sit in a courtroom and question their peers charged with a petty level crime. After some deliberation in a jury room, Teen Court jurors pronounce a sentence with conditions for the teen offender to follow.

Teen Court focuses on crimes including shoplifting, underage drinking, minor criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct.

“It’s my pleasure to have been part of this wonderful program for 12 years while sitting as the Brown County District Court Judge from 2000-2012. I had the opportunity to meet with many of Teen Court jurors and help guide this program along,” said Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge and New Ulm native John Rodenberg.

Brown County District Court Judge Robert Docherty said Teen Court nationally shows that teens who are sentenced by teens are less likely to get into trouble a second time, and more likely to pay any money they owe for damages faster than if they go through traditional court. In addition, youth that complete the program have their charges dismissed by the county attorney, leaving no criminal record of the offense with the court system.

In 20 years, Brown County Teen Court has handled 1,078 cases involving 648 males and 430 females ages 10 to 17. Minor alcohol consumption is the most common offense with 476 cases. There were 205 theft cases.

“In the early years, it was not uncommon to have 5-6 Teen Court hearings twice a month. With a juvenile crime reduction across the nation in the past five years, Brown County now sees 2-3 cases a month,” Rodenberg said. “Teen Court has proven it’s value over and over again.”

Brown County Probation Director Les Schultz said Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Terri Stoneburner was unable to attend the ceremony but that she founded the Teen Court program with help from a number of area leaders. They included Schultz, New Ulm Police officer Allison Miller, New Ulm Public Defender Linda Heine, attorneys Susan Nierengarten of New Ulm and Pat Lowther of Sleepy Eye, Ruth Scholtz of the United Way, and Sleepy Eye High School Principal Elia Bruggeman, now a Minnesota Assistant Education Commissioner.

A mock teen court hearing was held with a 17-year-old male who admitted to drinking beer while in a boat on the Minnesota River. His parents signed a document admitting the petty offense. He was sentenced to pay a $50 court fee, serve 25 hours Community Service, write a two-page letter on how marijuana and alcohol affect an adolescent’s brain, ordered to complete a safety class and serve six months probation with no offenses.

Schultz presented awards to organizations that provide program funding and/or assistance to the United Way, Families First Collaborative, United Substance Abuse Coalition, Brown County Court Administration, the Brown County Attorney’s Office, Brown County Board of Commissioners, and Brown County District Court Judge Robert Docherty.

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