Skerda picked for panel on juvenile justice

Gov. Tom Corbett has appointed Judge Maureen Skerda to serve on a commission that will help shape practices and procedures for addressing juvenile offenders.

Skerda, president judge of the 37th Judicial District which encompasses Warren and Forest counties, will serve on the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission.

“The JCJC is an executive branch organization or office,” Skerda said in an interview with the Times Observer on Tuesday. “The committee consists mostly of judges.”

She said she received a call from Judge Arthur Grim, Berks County, “to say that the committee had nominated me to serve. That recommendation goes to the Chief Justice of the Pa. Supreme Court… (who) then recommends to the governor.”

Established in 1959, the commission is, according to its website, responsible for “Advising juvenile courts concerning the proper care and maintenance of delinquent and dependent children; establishing standards governing the administrative practices and judicial procedures used in juvenile courts; establishing personnel practices and employment standards used in probation offices; collecting, compiling and publishing juvenile court statistics; and administering a grant-in-aid program to improve county juvenile probation.”

Skerda recently returned from the State Trial Judges Conference, during which a meeting of the JCJC was held.

The appointment “doesn’t require a lot of time out of the office,” she explained, because it works in conjunction with the conferences, held twice a year. “(The) work is done mostly via email.”

She summarized the goal of the commission succinctly in indicating its mission is “to improve the juvenile justice system.”

“A lot of the work is commenting on legislation that may be up for consideration, develop best practice for juvenile courts (and) weigh and consider possible initiatives for juvenile courts,” Skerda said.

She explained that there has been a push toward “evidence-based practice” and that she has “been very interested to see how many of the evidence-based” practices impact work on the ground.

While Skerda said she “didn’t really expect to be asked,” she wasn’t completely surprised by the appointment.

“I am very active in the state roundtable for permanency practices. (It) seems that many of the same judges that have the same concern for youth have (a) concern for delinquency.”

She described the appointment as “humbling… honored to be asked.”

Skerda had high praise for the juvenile probation departments in both Warren and Forest counties.

She explained that the executive director of the commission has “commented on their willingness to engage new practice, their embrace of the new practices and techniques in Warren County and Forest County. (Probation Director John) Gerarde has had (an) excellent reputation.”

She surmised that part of her appointment “reflects on the work Juvenile Probation has done.”

Asked if there are specific issues for which she wishes to advocate, Skerda said it is “too early for me to tell.”

She said she has already been appointed to a committee “to develop best practices for juveniles that are entering into residential placement, what should accompany a juvenile going into residential placement, documentation, so that a juvenile’s needs (are) met when they (are) placed.”

The first meeting last week was “a lot of information to digest in a short time,” but she is hopeful to contribute to “what might be helpful to judges and others working in the juvenile probation system. The outcome of the juvenile is the best result.”

Efforts are “just beginning to develop ways to measure those outcomes and that’s very exciting,” she said.

With Judge John Cleland from McKean County, more notably known for his work in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Skerda becomes “the only other person above I-80” on the commission.

“That’s why I’m particularly honored,” she said.