Like other towns, Forest Park has set up a parallel judicial system that diverts small and first time offenders from the county’s overburdened and intimidating court system into a hometown version of dispensing common sense justice.
Such so-called adjudication systems are a good idea and Forest Park is doing it well.
There are many advantages. It keeps local cops from having to make endless trips to the nearby Maybrook court house. It avoids a split of revenues from fines with the county. It allows considerably more latitude in adjusting fines depending on circumstances and the financial wherewithal of those being charged.
Most importantly, under the leadership of Forest Park’s adjudicator, retired Cook County judge Perry J. Gulbrandsen, it allows for personal connection and wise perspective in what is a stressful moment for those arrested or ticketed for fairly minor offenses. We are talking about underage drinking, curfew violations, neighbor disputes, abusing the noise level ordinance, first time shoplifting. These are not federal offenses. Rather they are the day-by-day nuisances and frustrations that go to our quality of life in our hometown. This makes them important but, especially because so many of these cases involve youngsters, it makes them an opportunity for sending a message.
As we watched Judge Gulbrandsen at work during one of his monthly court sessions, it seemed clear that he is able to send related messages to young people: “What you’ve done is unacceptable. Knock it off. I don’t ever want to see you here again.” At the same time, he was adept at letting our kids know that they are connected to this town and supported by it even when they are in trouble. And he does a good job of sending young miscreants back into the loving, if perturbed, arms of their family.
It is a pretty good balancing act and Gulbrandsen does it well. We especially liked his punishment of sending kids home to write short essays related to their offense. They are told to practice their speech with their parents and to turn up the following month to deliver their talk to those in the courtroom. It is an effective way to make a kid in a pickle think through their bad behavior, to own it and, at the same time, to connect them to their community.
Consider us fans.