Court referee’s job perfect fit

William J. “Bill” Hiddle thinks he has the perfect job.
The newly named Tulsa District Court referee assigned to the juvenile docket knows the circle because he has been an assistant district attorney, Tulsa municipal judge and defense lawyer.
He served as a part-time court referee for the juvenile docket for the past two years.
As a result, when Russell Anderson, who previously handled the position, was transferred to downtown, Hiddle applied for the open position.
He got it and officially started work Sept. 15.
“I started as an alternate referee when Judge Anderson couldn’t be in court on a particular day,” Hiddle said. “Judge Doris Francine, Juvenile Division chief judge, asked me if I would fill in when there was an absence.”
He knew Francine from law school days at the University of Tulsa.
The role seemed natural to Hiddle, and he accepted the offer.
“But I got my feet wet working with juvenile cases by filling in for Judge Anderson,” he said.
Cases before Hiddle are brief.
Once his role is complete, he is assigned to another judge for disposition. That ends his involvement unless he is returned due to a new violation.
The court referee takes the burden off the district judge, handling the magistrates hearings, arraignments, adjudication and detention hearings, he explained. The referee also handles criminal delinquent cases until the final disposition. Initial appearances also are part of the office’s responsibilities. Final disposition is before the judge assigned to the case.
Using the rehabilitation philosophy, everything is done to keep the juvenile from committing future offenses and returning to the system, Hiddle said. Everything is weighted toward rehabilitation, and proceedings are confidential.
Fortunately, the vast majority of those appearing in court are never seen again.
The court referee role is a refreshing change for Hiddle, coming from the completely adversarial atmosphere in the Tulsa County Courthouse.
“We do have adversarial hearings,” he said. “But they are friendly by comparison to other court proceedings.”
The entire staff involved in the Tulsa County Juvenile Justice program, from judges to assistant district attorney, assistant public defender and staff, is focused on helping kids, he said. Everyone wants to help the youth get beyond the incident that brought them here. Like the adult court, if the state can’t prove the criminal offenses, the case is dismissed.
All wheels in the process are turned toward the family in an effort to find out what caused the juvenile to break the law.
Minute clerks have seen how parents who also came into the system as juveniles are now back because their children are in the system, Hiddle said.
“Clerks will tell me about family backgrounds after court appearances because they don’t want to prejudice me before the hearing,” he said. “It might seem strange, but some parents coming to this court with their children who were before me as a municipal judge feel they will get a fair hearing because of their own experience before me years ago.”
The court referee’s role is such a different position when compared to the others, he said. The focus is on rehabilitation and finding out the family background that brought them to court.
Risk factors are identified, and often drug influence, mental illness and gang affiliation are involved.
“These issues become red flags when young people come to court and we pay close attention to that kind of activity,” he said.
Hiddle, the father of two grown sons, is aware of challenges facing parents.
He also has seen people, now parents, who appeared before him in municipal court when they were young.
“I am surprised at how many remember me,” he said. “Even though they straightened out their lives, they now are having trouble with their children.”
That awareness also is felt by the other staff members who have been involved with the system for so many years.
Hiddle graduated from the TU College of Law in 1981 and joined David L. Moss as an assistant district attorney. He remained in that position until 1987 when he went to the Tulsa Municipal Court bench.
Then, he went into private practice in 2001 as a criminal defense attorney.
“I loved all the positions I held,” Hiddle said. “This role provides a new excitement that will be challenging for many years.”

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