Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 30, 2002


Page 1


Judges Help Bring Interactive CD-ROM to High Schools


By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer


A computer-based presentation of mock trial proceedings now being developed by several Los Angeles Superior Court judges will help high school teachers bring trial courts to life in the classroom, judges and teachers said yesterday.

Judge Richard Fruin, who launched a high school program in Compton as a new judge and now heads the Court-Community Outreach Committee, said the scenarios presented in a CD-ROM to be distributed to schools this fall will help teachers and students grapple with major constitutional issues in an interesting way.

“This is not—you hear about it,” Fruin said. “This is—you see it.”

In a separate development Judge Laurie Zelon, an outreach committee member, said she was hoping to bring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to a Los Angeles school to mediate a post-Sept. 11 student discussion on American freedoms as part of a program of countywide school discussions.

Both programs are being generated by a panel of Superior Court judges working to improve the links between the court and the vast county it serves.

The CD-ROM is being prepared as part of the committee’s Teachers Courthouse Seminar program, which brings high school government teachers to the courthouse to witness firsthand criminal proceedings, from arraignment to suppression hearings to trials and lockup.

The CD will allow students in the classroom to view three separate mock court proceedings based on actual Court of Appeal opinions. Actors portraying defense lawyers and prosecutors will argue the case in front of a judge and witnesses based on the case file developed by the court.

Included are an arraignment, a plea, and a motion to set aside guilty plea; a motion to suppress evidence in a warrantless search of an automobile; and a three-strikes hearing.

Also included is a text lesson plan that includes issues teachers can discuss with their students, suggestions on how to use the scenarios in the classroom and references to additional activities and information.

One committee member—-a former math teacher—-said the cases were selected with the students and their interests in mind.

“Most of these 12th graders are driving and they are familiar with being stopped,” Judge John L. Segal said. “They all know about Three Strikes. It’s a current event and it’s a legal issue.”

Teachers who attended past Teacher Courthouse Seminars said they love the idea of having something visual to take back to their students.

“I think it would be a wonderful thing to have,” Torrance High School government teacher Kelly Gasset said.

Gasset said she attended a pilot teacher’s seminar last October at the Torrance Courthouse and saw a variety of courtroom proceedings and heard a presentation on jury service.

“It’s pretty easy to find information on the executive branch and the legislative branch, but when it comes to the courts and the Superior Court, we’re kind of stuck, Gasset said.

Lawrence Hom, a government teacher at North High School, said it is difficult to schedule a trip to the courthouse for his class to see a particular issue argued because the court docket can be so unpredictable. The CD would be helpful because it deals with some of the constitutional issues his students are learning in class, Hom said.

Fruin said it is important that teachers know as much as they can about the courts so they can relay the information to their students.

“After all, these high school seniors are going to be jurors rather quickly,” Fruin said.

The CD-ROM is being produced by the Los Angeles County Office of Education with a $22,000 grant from the Judicial Council.

The committee, which is considering a second CD-ROM with two or three more scenarios, has scheduled seven October teacher seminars at courthouses around the county. Sessions will be held at the Van Nuys, Pasadena, Torrance, Long Beach and Norwalk courthouses and at the downtown Foltz Criminal Justice Center,.

The panel is also looking into hosting an eighth seminar in the North District, which includes the Lancaster and Palmdale courthouses, some time in October.

“Our desire is to give the teachers an authentic experience in the criminal courts system,” Fruin said.

Bringing teachers to the criminal courts is a continuation of a program Fruin started at Compton area high schools six years ago. He brought deputy district attorneys, deputy public defenders and judges into government classes.

The volunteers, in teams of two, teach a series of five lesson plans to each class.

The teacher seminar program is a way of allowing teachers who normally don’t have a lot of personal experience with the court system to see it firsthand, Fruin said.

Since the creation of the program, the seminars have seen attendance range from five to 24 teachers, out of the more than 900 high school government teachers in the county, Fruin said.

Those teachers are responsible for teaching the state trial courts to more than 100,000 students countywide.

“With the teachers, we think we reach the students,” Fruin said.

Committee members say they are confident the teachers will benefit from the program, but they have had some problems

“Our biggest obstacle has been contacting the government teachers,” Fruin  said. “I think the teachers’ biggest obstacle is to obtain a substitute teacher.”

Fruin said he is contacting supervising judges across the county to help get the word out about the programs.

Zelon is working with the Los Angeles County Bar Association to bring lawyers and judges into Los Angeles Unified School District classrooms as discussion mediators shortly before the Kennedy visit. The justice’s discussion group then would be broadcast to all area high schools.

Zelon is working with Laura Farber of the Pasadena law firm of Hahn & Hahn to help coordinate the event.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company