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Kids take over the superior court

Amanda Butler, Sierra Sun

A smaller judge took the bench at the Nevada County Superior Courtroom on Tuesday, May 29.

Erica Tassone, a fifth grader at Glenshire Elementary School, got a chance to see what it would be like to fill the shoes of Judge C. Anders Holmer, as she presided over a fifth grade mock trial play.

But Tassone wasn’t the only unusually small person in court on Tuesday.

Students filled the jury box, sat at counselor’s tables, swore in witnesses and even filled in for the bailiff.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” said Tassone. “You will now hear the case of The People versus Danny Defendant. Mr. Defendant is accused of having committed a theft – to be specific, he stands accused of having stolen a cookie belonging to Ms. Vicky Victim.”

The mock trial was designed to help the students understand the judicial process.

“This play fits in with our social studies program,” said GES fifth grade teacher Don Schmidt. “This was a good way for us to introduce the court system and the judicial system in a fun way.”

The educational play was brought to Schmidt by Greg McDougall, a retired lawyer and founder of the Truckee Civil Trial Lawyers Association.

McDougall partners lawyers with fifth grade classes at GES and Truckee Elementary School to help explain the judicial principles mentioned throughout the play.

Concepts like presumption of innocence, cross-examination, and hearsay are explained as the mystery of “who stole the cookie” unfolded.

“Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you will give in this case shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” asked the court clerk, played by Kristi Koenig.

The jury listened as prosecutors and defenders presented their case and questioned witnesses. At the end of the 45-minute play, both sides presented their closing arguments and the jury adjourned to discuss their verdict.

After only five short minutes, Danny Defendant was found guilty.

Staying in character, prosecutor Austin Prouty was pleased with the verdict.

“This was fun … it was interesting to see how the court system worked,” said Prouty.

McDougall thinks the court experience teaches more than judicial vocabulary.

“(Mock trials) teach the students self-confidence and verbal skills,” said McDougall.

McDougall hopes to one day see a mock trial program at Tahoe-Truckee High School.

For now, Judge Holmer is content to give up his courtroom a few days a year.

Holmer was on hand to answer students’ questions after the mock trial ended.

“(Being a judge) is challenging,” said Holmer. “It’s always changing.”

As Tassone listened to the man whose bench she occupied, she decided becoming a judge was a definite possibility.

“Yes, (I would like to be a judge),” said Tassone. “I think it would be interesting to learn about the law.”


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