From Court, Houston Judge Presides over Class Judge William Yeoman is seeing a younger crop of defendants in his courtroom: students who act out in class.
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From Court, Houston Judge Presides over Class

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From Court, Houston Judge Presides over Class

From Court, Houston Judge Presides over Class

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Houston, some children who lose their way on the path to academic success have to explain themselves to a justice of the peace. Among the many responsibilities, JPs in Houston deal with kids who face misdemeanor charges for acting out in school.

NPR's Larry Abramson has the profile of one justice of the peace with his own unique view on who is responsible for school discipline problems.

Mr. WILLIAM YEOMAN (Justice of the Peace, Houston, Texas): Look at all the kids. (Unintelligible). Hi, everybody.

LARRY ABRAMSON: When Justice of the Peace William Yeoman holds court, he's both king and court jester.

Mr. YEOMAN: How many here on traffic violations? What we're going to do is get those of you that are kids with traffic violations out of here pretty quickly. Those of you that are here on stupid school stuff, how many are stupid school stuff, right?

ABRAMSON: Yeoman raises up his tall, stocky frame and does a rough count. About 30 people raise their hands. Yeoman is a formidable presence, and he clearly knows he might be a little scary. So he mixes his stern admonitions and lectures with a dose of weird jokes.

Mr. YEOMAN: Now, when I was in school, I did stupid school stuff. We never went to court. We just went down to Coach Wilson. And he beat my butt into next week. And my dad was a coach also, so Coach Wilson and Coach Yeoman knew each other. So Coach Wilson called Coach Yeoman, and Coach Yeoman took his son's butt into the following week. So I was buttless for two weeks.

ABRAMSON: While Yeoman is speaking, a local prosecutor is working out deals with some of the miscreant students and their parents. Some will plea guilty and pay a fine. Some will do community service and keep their record clean for now. Yeoman wants them to know that the real price they pay for their mistakes could be very high.

Mr. YEOMAN: The more education you have, the more money you will make. That's a statistical fact. But you can't do it going to court all the time. Because life's a competition, and your competition is in school while you're being ticketed to go to court.

ABRAMSON: Yeoman wears pinstripes. The assembled masses are in shirtsleeves. He wants them to know he will treat them fairly, as long as they show respect for him, and for the law.

Mr. YEOMAN: So today, if you were to plea not guilty - whoa, stop. Go back. Go back. That's how identify late people. Late to court is very irresponsible. Don't be late anymore.

ABRAMSON: The latecomer, the mother of a child who got in a fight in school, stops dead in her tracks. Afterwards, in his chambers, Yeoman tells me that tardiness is a sign why kids are in trouble in school.

Mr. YEOMAN: There is the problem. The parent isn't either responsible enough to get into the courtroom when they were supposed to. And that tells me volumes. And again, they're not respecting this system.

ABRAMSON: Outside the courtroom, those waiting for justice have different ideas of who's at fault. Eula Farris, the woman who was late, has a son with a learning disability. He's constantly getting picked on. She doesn't see why her son's efforts to defend himself should land him in court.

Ms. EULA FARRIS: I think the school should have been able to figure this out, especially kids with learning disabilities and behavior problems.

ABRAMSON: Is this the first time that Marcelo(ph) has gotten a ticket?

Ms. FARRIS: No. This is maybe about the fourth or fifth time this year.

ABRAMSON: Corey Enclarde, another student, just got out of high school, but he still has a ticket to take care of. Why does this keep happening to you?

Mr. COREY ENCLARDE (Student): The school system is corrupted. That's what I think.

ABRAMSON: You mean it's not you?

Mr. ENCLARDE: It's not me.

ABRAMSON: Phil(ph) Yeoman isn't much interested in this passing of the buck. He's not happy that he has to clean up someone else's mess. But if no one else is willing to do it, he will.

Meanwhile, for kids in the courtroom who've forgotten how important family is, Yeoman has some words of advice.

Mr. YEOMAN: If you don't have a mother, get one. Now, legally speaking, the difference between a mom and a dad is simple: Mom will lose her life to make sure you don't go to jail. Dad just wants to pick you up from jail. Okay? Now…

ABRAMSON: Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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