A tall, seventeen-year-old boy wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a pair of deejay earphones around his neck stood facing Judge Kerry Hada in Division 191-J of the Denver County Juvenile Court, a small wood-paneled courtroom that was packed this morning for RAP It Up, an amnesty program that allowed people with outstanding juvenile warrants to have their records wiped clean. The teen's mom, who was at least a foot shorter, stood next to him. Hada quietly looked over his file.
The boy had several tickets and was sentenced to complete 144 hours of community service as punishment. So far, he'd done zero. Hada asked him why such a strong, strapping young man hadn't lifted a finger. "I've got eleven-, twelve-year-old girls who get the work program done," the judge said. The boy didn't answer.
"You know me, don't you?" Hada asked, referring to the fact that the boy had been in his courtroom before. "Some people call me the Asian Brad Pitt."
He paused. The boy said nothing.
"Do you consider me to be the Asian Brad Pitt?"
"No," the boy said.
"Fair enough," Hada said. He asked if the boy had previously seen a court video in which Hada explains the juvenile justice system. The boy said he had. "What does the Asian Brad Pitt on the video say happens if you fail to do your hours?"
"You add more," the boy said.
"That's right," Hada said. "I double it."
But today, Hada cut the boy -- and many of the other people who showed up to 191-J -- a break. He reduced the number of hours from 144 to 48 -- provided the boy join the queue of juveniles waiting to get on a bus bound for a Salvation Army food bank, where they would sort canned food for two hours.
"Today, you got a good break," Hada said. "Next time, you might not."
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For five hours today, Hada gave out what he called "screamin' deals." He offered to erase the record of a sixteen-year-old boy charged with trespassing if he completed the two hours of service at the food bank. He did the same for a seventeen-year-old girl who was charged with shoplifting three years ago and had completed all but the very last requirement of her sentence. He completely dismissed the cases of a twenty-year-old woman and a twenty-four-year-old man who didn't even know they had outstanding juvenile warrants until they went to the DMV to get their drivers licenses and were told that they couldn't.
Waiting for the bus to the food bank, one seventeen-year-old boy said he was glad his mom saw a flier for RAP It Up and forced him to show up to court today. "At first, I thought it was a trap," he said. Now, instead of having to do fourteen hours of community service for a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia -- "the toking type," he said -- he'll complete his two hours and be done.
He said he was grateful to Hada. "He's the one judge I can respect," he said. "His words have logic."
Except for that "Asian Brad Pitt" description.