Last month, judges in the Superior Court of the Eastern Judicial Circuit announced the appointment of Savannah attorney Tom Cole to fill a vacant bench in Chatham County Juvenile Court.
“The Superior Court has the utmost confidence in Judge Cole and looks forward to working with him and the other judges of Juvenile Court in promoting the welfare of the entire community and especially the children of Chatham County,” their announcement read.
Thomas Cole is an Ohio native and 1993 graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law. He has an undergraduate degree from George Washington University where he majored in International Affairs, with a concentration in Latin American Studies.
“After college I traveled for six months through Central America to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru,” he said. “My goal was to know the culture and learn to speak Spanish. I was also traveling to see a cousin, who was a priest in Peru.”
Cole has prior experience in the juvenile court, having served as a judge pro tem for the last 13 years. He also served as chief judge of Port Wentworth and a judge in the town of Thunderbolt.
“Full time Judges are precluded from practicing law,” Cole said. “But my firm will continue to operate with five attorneys in our office. I am also precluded from sitting in any other courts, so I will have to relinquish both Thunderbolt and Port Wentworth. Both are great cities and great courts. It was definitely my privilege to serve in those communities. Derek White will now become the chief judge in Port Wentworth.”
According to information on the Chatham County website, the Juvenile Court is responsible for handling all delinquent complaints concerning children who are under the age of 17 years. However, in cases involving unruly children or abused and neglected children the age limit is extended to those under the age of 18 years. Complaints may be initiated by a parent, victim, police department, welfare agency, or other interested parties.
“Anyone under 17 that commits an act that would be a crime if they were an adult comes to juvenile court,” Cole said. “If a child is taken into custody for any such acts, the goal of our court is to assess the child's circumstances and determine the best way to change the child's behavior. The court will also see cases where the child is deprived of proper care and supervision. I am certainly aware of the stress and challenges families face during legal proceedings, especially where there is a language barrier. Hopefully my experiences and knowledge of Latino culture will enable me to do a better job.”
Cole looks forward to using his knowledge of the Spanish language as well as 20 years of experience working with Latino clients to make sure their needs are met in Juvenile Court.
“I understand that when someone is in a foreign country, involvement in the judicial system can be very stressful,” he said. “As a judge, I want to make sure that the parties before me understand exactly what is happening and that they understand their options. My goal in Juvenile Court will be to make sure that language and cultural barriers do not place a person at a (legal) disadvantage.”