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A juvenile court judge in Tennessee has been reprimanded for posting a video to social media warning that all kids who skip school in his county will be sentenced to spend their Friday nights at a local recycling center.
Putnam County Judge R. Steven Randolph, a Republican elected in 2021, posted a video to the Putnam County School District’s YouTube page in August showing himself in judicial robes and seated on the bench in a courtroom. In the video, Randolph said that he had researched truancy — defined in The Volunteer State as repeated unexcused absences — and learned that there is a lasting link between truancy and drug use, teen pregnancy, delinquency, and low self-esteem, even into adulthood.
“I want to really crack down on truancy problems,” he said. “I’ve determined that a school day is made up of about seven hours, and so for every unexcused absence that a kid has in school, they are going to do seven hours of community service at our local recycling center.”
Randolph next explained that the sentence would be served on Friday nights from 4:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., and that the students would spend their evenings “messing around with cardboard, milk jugs, tin cans, whatever they have down at the recycling center.”
“I know from personal experience being down there on a tour that during the summer months, those milk jugs get pretty stinky,” the judge added.
Randolph also warned parents that they could “be incarcerated up to ten days at a time” for their children’s unexcused absences.
The video did not go over well.
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded Randolph for his inappropriate comments. In a two-page rebuke issued earlier this week, the conduct board admonished Randolph for offending the canons of judicial conduct in multiple ways.
A proclamation of pre-determined sentences, for example, could have “unintended consequences” for everyone involved and for the public at large, according to the board.
“[S]uch comments can undermine public perception and confidence that the judge will approach his or her cases fairly and impartially by taking into account the unique facts and circumstances of each case,” the letter says, citing Tennessee jurispridence. “If the public is to maintain confidence in our system of justice, litigants must be afforded the ‘cold neutrality of an impartial court,’ not one that has or appears to have predetermined matters like to come before the court.”
The letter also said that judges risk the fairness of proceedings by making comments about pending cases, and noted that “extrajudicial comments about pending or impending cases can lead to disqualification issues for the judge.”
The board noted that Randolph took full responsibility for his actions, offered no excuses, and fully cooperated with the disciplinary counsel.
After the video began making headlines in August, Randolph issued a formal statement in which he clarified that, “Truancy is chronic absences, not an occasional missed school day.”
“I regret that the video has caused so much confusion, but I am glad that it has increased awareness about truancy and the best interests of the students of Putnam County,” said Randolph in the statement.
Randolph’s video, which still appears on the Putnam County School District’s YouTube channel, can be viewed here.
Under the video, the district added the following comment:
You can read the full reprimand here.
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