Hamilton Herald Masthead Hamilton Herald


Front Page - Friday, August 23, 2019

Philyaw receives McCain-Abernathy Memorial Award

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw received the prestigious McCain-Abernathy Memorial Award at the annual Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Conference in Franklin this month.

The annual award is given to a Tennessee judge who’s demonstrated outstanding service in the effort to improve juvenile justice in Tennessee.

Philyaw says the award is not for him but Hamilton County’s entire juvenile justice system. “What we’re doing in Hamilton County is making a difference. What we’re doing in Hamilton County is being talked about elsewhere. What we’re doing in Hamilton County is being mimicked in other places.”

Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler has observed Philyaw at work since the judge took the bench at Hamilton County Juvenile Court in 2013. He says when Judge Suzanne Bailey retired and the Hamilton County Commission tapped Philyaw to fill the remainder of her term, they made “an excellent choice.”

“From day one, Judge Philyaw has been a pleasure to work with.”

Philyaw’s accomplishments as juvenile court judge include shepherding the digital conversion project already underway when he took the bench. “He’s been a great partner in moving our court forward technologically,” Behler says. “Without his support, it would have been very tough making monumental changes to how we manage information and data.”

Beyond that, Philyaw has been a visionary in seeking to add new services to the court, as evidenced by his development of Youth Court and Recovery Court, Behler adds.

The judge also initiated a monthly safe policies meeting that gathers top leadership from several agencies for a roundtable discussion to facilitate information sharing across institutional boundaries.

“That monthly meeting has paid great dividends in the development and strengthening of relationships among those who deliver services to youth in our community,” Behler says.

On a statewide level, Philyaw and Behler worked together when the Pew Charitable Trust began collecting juvenile data across Tennessee, making sure the data was accurate and properly vetted at the county level.

Philyaw also led the movement to make modifications to the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. “Many important changes were made to that act prior to its implementation,” Behler explains. “While it’s still a work in progress, Judge Philyaw’s hard work has spearheaded needed improvements.”

Behler says the most important thing Philyaw has brought to juvenile court in Hamilton County is his heart for youth and families.

“From the very beginning in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois, juvenile courts were designed to be courts of rehabilitation for youthful offenders,” explains Behler. “Judge Philyaw gets that.

“He knows and understands the impact of both status offenses and criminal offenses on families and the community. But he also knows that, in our society today, there are violent offenders and predators that must be dealt with.

“For these reasons, I believe Judge Philyaw embodies the intention of the McCain-Abernathy Memorial Award, as he’s truly rendered outstanding service to the improvement of juvenile justice in the great state of Tennessee.”