Some choices, casually decided, can have disastrous consequences on careers and entire lives – a point driven home during a Miami Law panel discussion on the juvenile justice system.
Sponsored by two student organizations – the Child Advocacy & Family Law Society and the Entertainment & Sports Law Society – the panel comprised three people with unique perspectives on the juvenile justice system: Judge Ellen Sue Venzer, JD '87, of Florida's Eleventh Judicial Circuit, who has presided over juvenile dependency cases; Dale Dobuler, JD '11, a former superintendent of the Florida Department of Juvenile Corrections; and wide receiver Davone Bess of the Miami Dolphins, who straightened out after getting into trouble as a teenager. Bess is the founder of the Bess Route Foundation, which is dedicated to helping underprivileged children develop positive lifestyles.
The discussion was moderated by Miami Law Associate Professor Mary Anne Franks, whose chief area of interest is criminal law.
Nima Tahmassebi, a second-year law student, organized the seminar and later wrote the following summary of what occurred:
"We had a turnout of nearly 100 people and we were able to promote several different programs dedicated helping kids in the juvenile justice system. When the event started, I opened the floor with a brief introduction on each of the panelists and then stressed the main point that I wanted everyone to take from this event. I noted that whether the students realized it or not, we are all one to three years away from being future leaders in this city. If there was one thing we should take away from this discussion it was that each of today's panelists, who have achieved such tremendous success in their respective fields, have also found ways to give back to our community. I further noted that we, as students, should do our utmost to follow the example set by these individuals and find ways to make our society a better place.
Once the event started, it was fascinating to see Professor Mary Anne Franks pose her question and then watch each of the panelists provide their unique perspective on this division of criminal law. Dale Dobuler gave the students some terrific insight on the pre-existing issues within the juvenile justice system and the steps he believed should be taken to address them.
Judge Venzer really connected with the audience, and made them realize that they themselves were not so different from these youth offenders in lock-up. A particular highlight of hers was when she asked the audience, 'How many of you here have ever done something that if the Florida Bar ever found out about it, it would severely affect your Bar eligibility?' As you heard the nervous laughs in the audience, the point really hit home, showing the students that, in many ways, the youth offenders who get sucked into the 'system' are often the ones who are just unlucky enough to get caught in the first place.
Finally, Davone Bess shed some light on the juvenile justice system from his own personal experience in incarceration. He shared with the students that it was his family support system, his own personal desire to lead the right path, and him being lucky enough to get away from the bad community he was brought up around in Oakland, that allowed him to get out of the system and turn his life around.
In their own ways, each of these individuals helped create a dynamic perspective on today's discussion. When the event concluded and I saw Miami Law students approach our panelists asking them how they could get involved in programs dedicated to helping youth offenders, I couldn't help but feel proud to know I was helping connect these people with one another. I can only hope that this event will have a positive effect down the road in helping those children out there who need it most."