Petersen honored with Selig Goldin Memorial Award
With more than 50 years of public service in Miami at the state attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, as a juvenile judge, and in the community, Thomas K. Petersen received the Selig Goldin Memorial Award at the Bar’s Annual Convention.
Bestowed by the Bar’s Criminal Law Section, the award was presented to Petersen June 23 at The Chester Bedell Memorial Foundation and Selig I. Goldin Memorial Award joint luncheon in Boca Raton. The award honors a lawyer who has made a lasting contribution to Florida’s criminal justice system.
After graduating from Columbia Law School, Petersen joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), moved to Overtown, a predominantly African-American community in Miami, and created the first pretrial release program for indigent defendants.
He served as the first assistant public defender in Miami to be assigned to juvenile court, and then he was hired by then State Attorney Richard Gerstein to create and administer the first pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders in the Southeastern United States.
With limited staff, he simultaneously served as director of both the PTR and PTI programs in Miami. His PTI program was nominated for Exemplary Project Status by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, and Petersen was awarded an LEAA grant to fund the diversion program.
As the chief assistant state attorney under Gerstein and Janet Reno (both former Selig Goldin Award recipients), Petersen was responsible for the administrative and policy decisions in the office of more than 180 attorneys. He served as the legal advisor to the Dade County grand jury and issued reports covering policies ranging from foster care, nursing homes, vocation and probation programs, immigrants and narcotics interdiction, and inner-city schools.
This was in addition to administering a $3 million federal grant to establish and fund a recidivist juvenile offender program, an early intervention program, a juvenile restitution program, and the 11th Circuit State Attorney’s Office’s first offender diversion program.
Appointed to the 11th Circuit Court in 1989, Petersen served for nine years in the juvenile division, where he developed a first-offender diversion program, a committee to oversee residential and nonresidential juvenile delinquency programs, the TROY (Teaching and Rehabilitating Our Youth) program, Teen Cuisine (teaching food preparation and service skills), the Gardens of TROY (horticultural program) and the TROY Academy — all designed to give juvenile offenders the skills to develop self-reliance and responsibility.
Outside of his work in the courts, Petersen created a small chain of nonprofit grocery stores that employed women from public-housing projects. Together with civic champion Georgia Jones-Ayers, he co-founded The Alternative Program, Florida’s first privately operated pretrial release organization.
In 1988, he was awarded The Miami Herald Spirit of Excellence for his economic development work.