Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, October 10, 2002


Page 3


High School Teachers Get Close Look at Superior Court as Seminars Are Launched


By ALISON LOMAS, Staf Writer


The Long Beach courthouse yesterday welcomed a dozen high school government teachers, who spent the day speaking with judges and sitting in on criminal proceedings as part of a Los Angeles Superior Court community outreach program.

The Teachers’ Courthouse Seminars, are intended to give teachers a firsthand look at the judicial criminal justice system in action so that they can teach their students more effectively.

Approximately 90 teachers are expected to attend seminars in six courthouses around the county during the month of October, officials said.

“It’s a great project because it educates teachers about the trial court so that they in turn can provide accurate information to their students. . .who will become jurors, citizens and tax payers, Judge Richard L Fruin said. Fruin is chair of the court’s Community Outreach Committee.

The court has offered the seminars to teachers of Los Angeles Unified School District’s 49 high schools on a pilot basis for the last two years, but decided to extend the invitation to other school districts this year.

The court sought the cooperation of school districts close to the courthouses where the seminars would take place, but any high school government teacher “who hears about it and wants to come is welcome,” court spokeswoman Patricia Kelly said.

Teachers from both private and public schools are invited to attend.

The subject matter to be covered during the courthouse visits includes the structure of courts, the organization of the courthouse, court criminal procedures, criminal sentencing laws, constitutional issues involved in search and seizure and police interrogations, jury service and the court’s web sites.

Fruin said that he wants the teachers to “see as many different criminal proceedings as possible” because the “criminal courts highlight the constitutional protections that citizens have when accused of crimes.”

The programs are similar in their content, but the actual agenda depends on the criminal proceedings occurring in the courthouse on that day.

The educators are expected to observe arraignments, bail hearings, plea bargains, jury selection, juvenile sentencing and the court’s drug-diversion program, according a statement by the court’s information office, Kelly said. The seminars also give the teachers an opportunity to discuss constitutional rights and trial procedures with judges, prosecutors, public defenders and other court staff.

During the day-long seminar yesterday teachers from eight local high schools sat in on a suppression hearing, watched the court grant a trial continuance, and attended a preliminary hearing.

The group also witnessed a defendant in handcuffs and a blue jumper accused of domestic violence enter a no-contest plea after being informed of his constitutional rights. The teachers also had the opportunity to learn about the issues that arise in juvenile and family law proceedings.

Before or after each proceeding, the judge or commissioner presiding would explain the legal issues involved in that particular proceeding and the teachers were given an opportunity to ask questions.

At least 13 judges, two commissioners and one referee joined the teachers during lunch. In what Fruin referred to as an attempt to “humanize” the judges, each judicial officer spoke to the group.

Janet Lipson, a teacher at Long Beach Poly High School praised the program:

“The opportunity to spend a day at a local court accompanied by court officials is one all government teachers should get to experience. Besides seeing many aspects of the justice system, the chance to speak with individual judges and have questions answered was invaluable.”

Anthony B. Rogers, also from Poly, said he was “grateful” for the opportunity to spend a day “watching the court system in action.” He said the time spent in the juvenile court was particularly useful.

At the end of the day’s program, each participant was given a copy of a CD-ROM designed to help explain the justice system through a step-by-step description of a criminal case from the time of filing to the disposition.

The CD-ROM, funded by a $22,000 grant from the Judicial Council, was the product of a cooperative effort between the court and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. It features three simulated hearings based on reports of actual cases decided in California in 2001 and 2002.

The scenarios were written by Superior Court Judge John Segal and depict a motion to suppress, the withdrawal of a guilty plea, and a “three-strikes” sentencing, presided over by Judges Larry Fidler, Lance Ito and Tricia Bigelow.

Bigelow told the MetNews she was “really touched” that so many people were willing to volunteer their time to put together the CD-ROM. Fruin credited Bigelow with casting the attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and other court personnel who appear in the courtroom scenarios featured on the CD-ROM.

The CD program also includes lesson plans developed by Laura Westerman from the county Office of Education and Dr. Bryan Borys, director of the court’s organizational development and education department. The lesson plans include the appellate opinions on which the scenarios were based.

Fruin said he hopes the government teachers will use the CD-ROM as a tool to teach their students about the trial courts.

Charlene Sampson, a teacher at Cabrillo High School, said that her classroom is equipped with the technology to use the CD-ROM, but suggested that other schools may not be technologically advanced enough to take advantage of such a high-tech teaching tool.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company