by Karen Brune Mathis
Judge Gerald Tjoflat of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals told Meninak Club of Jacksonville members on Monday that society is leaving a set of tough problems for the coming generations.
Tjoflat, who has been a judge for 43 years, talked about the costs of unfunded pensions and liabilities to state and local governments.
“Those who are going to be picking up the tab are going to have to put their shoulder to the wheel,” he said.
Tjoflat then focused on the issue of what he termed “fatherlessness” and the effects on children who don’t have fathers in their lives.
“The children,” he said, “are going to need our help.”
Tjoflat listed statistics that showed a large percentage of children who are homeless, in custody, are high school dropouts and who face other problems are fatherless.
“We don’t like to talk about these things,” he said.
Tjoflat then shared a story, that also was chronicled in the Fordham Law Review when he received the 21st Annual Fordham-Stein Prize in 1996.
Named after Fordham Law alumnus Louis Stein, from the class of 1926, the prize recognizes the positive contributions of the legal profession to American society.
Other winners over the years included seven members of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as three lawyers who have served as Secretary of State.
Tjoflat has been a veteran supporter of the Boy Scouts. His story focused on Scout Troop 644 at the “prison for boys,” a tale picked up and shared by NBC News at the time.
According to his biography in the Fordham Law Review, Tjoflat, born in Pittsburgh, attended the University of Virginia and the University of Cincinnati, where his first year at the University of Cincinnati Law School was interrupted by military duty. He served in the U.S. Army for two years, as a special agent of the Counterintelligence Corps.
In 1955, he resumed his legal studies at the Duke University School of Law. After receiving his law degree in June 1957, he joined the Jacksonville firm of Howell & Kirby, where he practiced for 10 years until he was appointed to the bench as a circuit judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in 1968.
In 1970, he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
He was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1975, where he served until 1981, becoming a member of the newly created Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Eight years later, he became the court’s chief judge, stepping down from that position in 1996.
In accepting the Fordham-Stein prize, he told the story that he shared with Meninak.
In 1975, a group of Jacksonville leaders asked him to consider serving as president of the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Although he knew very little about scouting, he agreed to serve for one year.
He quickly came to see scouting as a potential answer to many of the problems presented by young people with too much time and too little guidance.
The one-year term as president of the council grew to 10 years. For his volunteer service, he was given scouting’s Silver Beaver Award.
Tjoflat shared the story that began in the spring of 1982, when he was seven years into his decade as president of the North Florida Council.
The setting was a Florida juvenile corrections facility called the Jacksonville Youth Development Center, which was the state’s most restrictive juvenile facility for boys ages 10-14.
Of the 40 boys at the center, each had committed between eight and 14 felonies, including burglary, grand larceny, grand auto theft, assault and battery, and arson. One boy had committed murder.
Tjoflat said the boys had come from broken homes characterized by alcoholism, drug addiction and physical abuse.
They had rebelled against the treatment they had received at home and against people in a position of authority, including parents, teachers, police and juvenile counselors.
“Although the boys put on a face of macho self-confidence, they, like most inmates in adult prisons, had little, if any, self-esteem,” said Tjoflat.
Fighting and property destruction were rampant. “The center’s inability to maintain order was such that Florida’s Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, which operated the facility, had a difficult time keeping a superintendent on the job,” he said.
The superintendent resigned in the spring of 1982 and his replacement did the same two weeks later.
Then came Marilyn Heck, an assistant superintendent, who was expected to close the center but instead took another direction.
She believed that order could be restored with the proper program and turned to the Boy Scouts of America.
“On the street, the gang might be the Crips or the Bloods. In Scouting, the gang is the troop or the patrol,” said Tjoflat.
The North Florida Council Boy Scout office liked the idea of forming a scout troop at the center, but HRS had to be persuaded that it could work.
Organizers found a scoutmaster and formed Troop 644. It was a voluntary program for the boys, and six signed up. Soon, all 40 boys at the center had become a scout.
The center had no funds for scout uniforms, tents and other equipment. To raise money, it decided to hold a barbecue and invite the neighbors, although most had objected to the center’s location in their neighborhood.
Fliers for the barbecue were posted, the local newspaper ran a story, and then NBC News and the Associated Press picked it up, generating national publicity about a scout troop in a prison for incorrigible boys.
A few days later, NBC ran the story, introduced by anchor Jessica Savitch.
The barbecue was a success and neighbors volunteered to help the troop any way they could.
Tjoflat and the organizers submitted a plan to HRS for it to notify the North Florida Council Scout office when a boy was paroled. A scout executive in the boy’s hometown would be notified and meet with the boy’s parole officer to select a scout troop for him to join.
One Saturday morning, the scoutmaster took a patrol to the beach for the boys’ first serious exposure to the sun. He stopped to buy sun-protection lotion at a drug store. He decided to let the boys wait in the
When he returned, he found one of the boys missing, fearing the worst – a runaway. Instead, the missing scout was helping a disabled woman put her groceries in her car.
Tjoflat said that the recidivism rate for adult males at the time was higher than 70 percent and for boys 10-14 it was 85 percent, although the rate for the scouts released from the center was just 14.6 percent.
Tjoflat summarized that Troop 644 was a success because the administrator was willing to assume the risk of failure; the volunteers pledged their full support; and the scouting program addressed the boys’ need to be creative.
Tjoflat told the more than 90 Meninak members that there was a need to guide young men and boys without fathers and who need direction.
“Washington programs run by bureaucrats are not going to do that. Money is not going to do that,” he said.
“We have to do something about fatherlessness.”