Judge Bradley J. Boyd at the Fulton County Juvenile Justice Center.
Judge Bradley J. Boyd at the Fulton County Juvenile Justice Center. (Alison Church)

It was only after Fulton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Bradley Boyd returned to town after taking some time off that he found himself at the center of a local lawyer’s campaign to place more black male judges on the court.

“I just sort of walked into all this when I got back from vacation,” said Boyd, whose decision to appoint a white male to a seat that opened up when a black female judge moved into one formerly held by a black man came under very public fire by Atlanta attorney Antavius Weems. “I saw the story in the Daily Report and said, ‘Well, my vacation’s definitely over,’” Boyd added with a laugh.

Citing his belief that the black boys who overwhelmingly comprise the court’s caseload should see more black men as role models, Weems launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Chief Judge Gail Tusan—whose court appoints the four full-time presiding judges on the juvenile court—to intercede.

Weems called for Boyd to replace a long-serving, white male associate judge with a black man, urged the creation of a new presiding judgeship and said the superior court judges should consider replacing Boyd when his appointment comes up for renewal in December.

Boyd said he understood Weems’ argument, which he’s heard before, but defended the current judges’ qualifications and the process that saw them seated.

“I understand that this is not a new conversation about the makeup of the courts, and I understand the concerns,” Boyd said. “I will say I think we’ve been mindful of diversity as we appoint judges. Our bench is minority-minority—we have three black women and one black man—and we’re mindful of it.”

“But when these issues come up and we look at candidates, I end up making the decision for who I think is the most appropriate candidate,” he said.

Recently appointed associate judge Chris Yokom has served the court for 20 years in roles including child advocate and staff attorney, Boyd noted.

“We didn’t just sort of pick someone out and say, ‘OK, it’s you,’” Boyd said. “Chris Yokom had applied before, and he wasn’t selected earlier because we were looking for a different skill set at that time.”

But Boyd also addressed Weems’ argument that the heavy caseload of black boys in delinquency cases should be met with more black, male judges.

“I think that, as a court, we probably spend more judicial hours on dependency cases than delinquency cases,” Boyd said.

Dependency or deprivation cases involve children lacking supervision because their parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for them.

“A great deal of those cases involve interacting with black mothers,” said Boyd. “They come back more often, they’re getting children treatment, getting the parents back on track; I think it’s important to have qualified black women on the bench.”

Weems launched his effort in early August with a Facebook post calling on visitors to call Tusan’s office “and ask why is there 1 Black male of 7 in Juvenile Court with 96% black boys coming to it.”

He followed up with an appearance on former Atlanta City Councilman Derek Boazman’s radio show to explain his position.

Tusan told the Daily Report in an Aug. 10 story that there is a “relationship of oversight between the Superior and Juvenile Court, but it is a separate, functioning court.” The authority to appoint associate judges remains solely with the chief judge, she said.

After that story appeared, Weems said he met with Tusan and several other superior court judges, as well as District Attorney Paul Howard Jr., County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr., Atlanta NAACP Vice President Gerald Griggs and others.

“We had a robust, honest conversation about what this disparity looks like,” said Weems. “We believe the judges listened intently, and they’ve agreed to look at some changes in policy.”

Another meeting is planned next month, Weems said.

Weems said Boyd raised an interesting point concerning the frequent interactions juvenile judges have with mothers in dependency cases as one reason for appointing more black woman to the bench.

“I was a child advocate attorney myself, and I represented those children in dependency cases,” Weems said.

“In almost every one of those cases, (the mothers) said, ‘We need an African-American male role model on our household,” he said. “There’s nobody other than an African-American man better able to teach a child to be an African-American man.”

Weems said he’s heard from judges, lawyers and nonlawyers around the country since his call went public. Some were supportive and some questioning his rationale.

“Some asked me, ‘What does it matter what color the judge is? We’re always taught justice is blind.’”

“My response is that the juvenile court is supposed to be what we want these children to emulate; it’s important that they see people that we would like them to be in 15 or 20 years,” Weems said.

“We don’t want all their role models to be rappers and sports figures.”

Boyd said he welcomed the input concerning the court’s bench, whether from superior court judges, county officials or concerned observers like Weems.

“As far as the process that was under discussion, we’re working on making sure it goes forward in a more transparent fashion,” he said.

Regarding Weems’ suggestion that the superior court appoint another chief judge in December, Boyd said he planned to apply for reappointment and hoped to keep the job.

“I started working as probation officer here in 1973. This has been my whole career,” said Boyd, who joined the State Bar of Georgia in 1978.

“I would like to continue to contribute to the progress we’ve been making here as long as I have a little bit of energy to bring to that effort,” he said.