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Day in court may lead students to justice

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POSTED: April 14, 2007 5:00 a.m.
The courtroom buzzed with small talk. Suddenly the doors opened, and a bailiff walked in and bellowed, “All rise. Liberty County Magistrate court is now in session, honorable Judge Amy Owens presiding. Please be seated.”
Many spectators sat wide-eyed, anxious to see what came next.
Students from Pamela Woodard’s business law class at Bradwell Institute were on a field trip to Liberty County Magistrate Court. They watched five cases brought before the court that is sometimes referred to as “people’s court.”
Magistrates hear civil and criminal disputes that meet certain criteria without attorneys, unless the parties choose to hire one. In most instances each party represents him or herself. The penalty or judgment may not exceed $15,000 in magistrate court.
During the afternoon’s proceedings, students learned the importance of having credible evidence and proper documentation to present in trial, as well as the role a judge has in interpreting the evidence.
Many of the students in Woodard’s class aspire to be attorneys or take some other role in the criminal justice system.
The last case presented involved attorneys representing both parties with the penalty set at the maximum allowable for the court.
“While in the courtroom I started thinking about being a lawyer, defending and helping my clients,” one of Woodard’s students, Jasmine Palmer, said. “Now that I experienced a real trial, I really want to go to college and get my degree in law.”
QuaCherra Mason is not interested in pursing law as a career but said the day gave her an understanding of how the system works.
“Watching the cases showed me that it takes a lot of work and dedication. It gave me an insight on how the legal proceedings operate and how people interact with the judge in magistrate court.”
Magistrate Owens took time between the cases to explain the difference between magistrate and superior court. “The proceedings that take place in a magistrate court are not as strict in regulations regarding proper attire and formal representation,” Owens explained. “In most of the cases brought before us, the plaintiffs and the defendants represent themselves to the best of their abilities in matters of small disputes.”
Student Veronica Redding was impressed by the way Owens conducted her court.
“Judge Owens seemed to be very fair,” Redding said. “She listened to both sides of the case and was very thorough, Most importantly she had control over her courtroom.”
Woodard was pleased with her students’ reaction and subsequent discussion the next day.
“They really paid attention to the details of each case. That was evident in our discussion of each one afterwards,” she said. “Our group has visited the Capitol, but this was our first field trip to a courtroom and it helped them understand the entire process.”
Woodard’s class is going to conduct mock trials before the end of the term with students playing the roles of prosecutors, defenders, witnesses, judges, bailiffs, plaintiffs and defendants. They hope to organize a trip for the students to visit the jail to see the system from that perspective.
“We want the students to see first hand how things are in jail and how it is a place they do not want to end up in,” Woodard said.
 

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