By Rosemary K. Otzman
Students from Huron High School helped 34th District Court Chief Judge Tina Brooks Green sentence two defendants during an afternoon court session on May 16.
Meanwhile, Judge Brian A. Oakley, down the hall in the courthouse, was sentencing another defendant with the help of students’ input.
This was the court’s sixth day of sentencing with the help of graduating seniors in the Teen Tribunal.
Seven to eight students, who are members of a high school law class, sit in the jury box and ask questions of the defendant, who has agreed to take part in the program. The students then go into the jury room with a person from the probation department to guide them and come up with recommendations for sentencing.
A second set of students then took to the jury box in Judge Green’s courtroom to question the second defendant.
The defendants are adults who have been convicted of various misdemeanors including drinking and driving, domestic violence, assault and controlled substance cases and are awaiting sentencing.
On May 16, Kristin McComb and her attorney Seth Goldner had agreed to take part in the procedure.
McComb said she was arrested March 18 in Huron Township after celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with friends. They used Uber and Lyft to get from bar to bar and then they went back to her friend’s house and they drank lots of water and ate. When her friend told her she was going to bed, McComb said she thought she was OK to drive home. She wasn’t and got pulled over shortly after midnight.
She said she had been pulled over seven years ago for drunk driving. She said she has been going to Alcoholics Anonymous and has not had a drink since the last incident.
She explained that she started drinking at about 18 or 19 years old and a lot of her friends, who were older, were drinkers. There was peer pressure. Both her parents were drinking and “I thought that’s what you did,” she said. “As you can see I had to learn the hard way.”
She said in 2010 when she was 36, her dad was waiting for a liver transplant to keep him alive and the match didn’t show up.
“It’s been over five years since he died,” she said, adding her sister worked at a bar and she “helped her sister.”
“I didn’t take the first arrest serious,” she told the teens. “I’m serious now.”
She showed them her 30 days coin from AA and said she would get another one that day for 60 days.
“I know I can do it,” she said, adding she has her dream job at Delta Airlines now and she doesn’t want to lose it. She said her career is based on random drug testing and, “I want to keep my career.” She said she worked 20 years of her life to get this job.
She told the teens being handcuffed and in jail is no fun and, “I don’t have a driver’s license any more.”
Attorney Goldner said his client has a temporary license with strings. He said this session has given his client a chance to show she has reassessed her role in life.
“If she screws up one more time, she’ll go to jail,” he said.
The teens came out of deliberation to give Judge Green their recommendation on the sentence and the judge followed most of it. The defendant gave the teens a pamphlet on AA.
Goldner said this session exposed his client and there was to be a courtesy reduction of fines and costs.
Judge Green’s second defendant was Austin Miles who stood with his attorney Christopher Easthope as a new group of students filed into the jury box.
Miles, 22, told his life story with a drug and alcohol usage problem that began in high school and grew a year out of high school. He was a football player who got a concussion in a game and was sidelined. Later his fiancee died from a drug overdose while he was out of town. He was in the music industry and there were lots of drugs, he said.
His life spiraled out of control after he crashed his mother’s car and got a OWI charge and two months later another OWI charge. His mom kicked him out and he went to stay with his dad. One day he was going to his friend’s house in Detroit and was pulled over and failed the sobriety test. He spent overnight in jail and had to pay to get his car out of impound.
“I told my dad, and he and his girlfriend apologized for letting me down,” he said to the teens. “It was the first time I understood my actions affected others.”
He checked into rehab and a halfway house and removed himself from training to become the manager of a restaurant because it involved the bar. He put music on hold until he’s sober.
“Recovery is kind of sweet,” he said. “Considering how I messed up my life and how many people I hurt.” He said he’s been sober for 90 days.
Judge Green went over a list of drugs and Miles said over and over that he had taken that one and that one, acid twice, mushrooms, morphine, and more and more.
Judge Green said she wanted the teens to know just what he had taken and they were shocked.
He is in a transition house in Ann Arbor near the Big House and has applied for Ann Arbor Sobriety Court.
Miles informed the judge about the AA young peoples groups in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and across the country. Judge Green and Judge Oakley agreed such groups would be valuable for local young people.
Attorney Easthope, a former Ann Arbor District Court judge, told the teens that many people from the same class, the same high school as Miles are wrestling with addiction.
“You know somebody experimenting,” he said to challenge the teens, adding it could be a classmate or a family member. He said this story of what happens with drug and alcohol abuse is important for the students to know.
Judge Green took the recommendation from the students who agreed that it made sense for Miles to follow his rehab programs in Ann Arbor since that’s where he’s living. She told Miles she appreciated his candor and laid out his sentence.
Judge Green said Huron has been the only school taking part in the teen program, but Romulus did so in the past. She said they were hoping to get Belleville High School involved.
This was the last Teen Tribunal at the court until the new school year starts in the fall.
By Rosemary K. Otzman