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Valley students visit federal courthouse for 'CourtWorks'

Student presents during mock trial
October 31, 2011

A student allegedly found smoking in the bathroom had her purse searched by the school’s vice principal, revealing cigarettes and marijuana. The question is: Was the search legal?

More than 300 students from around the Phoenix area searched for the answer as part of the seventh annual Kids to Court-CourtWorks program, Oct. 28, at the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse. Judge Mary H. Murguia of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals led CourtWorks as the keynote speaker.

Hosted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and the College of Law, the mock trials mimicked actual trials as much as possible, with students acting as attorneys, jurors, court marshals, judges and many other roles within the legal system.

The students also received information on the different jobs that it takes to make the legal system work, from Pretrial Services, the U.S. Probation Office and the U.S. Marshal’s Office.

“We wanted to introduce you to the federal court system,” Murguia said to the students.

U.S. Probation Officers asked for a teacher volunteer for a urine sample, as they explained how they detect drug users. After telling the students how to test the sample, Officer Jon Evanko said the last step is to taste the urine. As the students shrieked and jumped out of their seats for a closer look, Officer James Thiessen drank the “urine sample.”

Other presentations came from the K-9 Explosives Detection Unit and federal judges and attorneys from around the Valley acted as mentors to the students playing their roles during the mock trials.

Crystal Lopez, a commercial litigation attorney for DLA-Piper, said she became involved with CourtWorks after meeting with Murguia two years ago.

“The point of the program is to educate the eighth graders,” said Lopez, who has volunteered for two years.

Students from Garfield Elementary went through the entire process of court proceedings, including providing opening statements from the defense and prosecution, calling witnesses to the stand and determining the verdict - not guilty.

Eighth grader Joel Batista played the role of the judge, complete with a robe and gavel.

“It was fun,” he said.

Howard Cabot, an adjunct professor at the College of Law and a partner at Perkins Coie, talked about the importance of the American legal system in a democracy while the Garfield students were in the jury deliberation room.

Cabot also applauded Garfield for their professionalism and preparedness. “If I had all of you on my team, I’d probably win a lot more,” he said.

Other schools participating included ASU Preparatory Academy, Bethune Elementary, Hamilton Elementry, Kuban Elementry and St. Vincent de Paul School.

The students were given details of the case about two months ago to prepare, said David Jackson, a 3L at the College of Law and a coordinator for CourtWorks. The students then studied their roles, with law students coming into their classrooms before Friday’s event to help coach the teams.

Participating students also received ASU drawstring backpacks, pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution and binders. Their schools received classroom sets of We the People books and materials, Jackson said.

Ben Helford, 2L, said he wishes there had been a program like this when he was growing up. Helford volunteered at the event after he saw a notice on the College of Law’s Daily Disclosure.

“I think it’s really important to help out,” Helford said.

“If you work hard and really persevere, read, read a lot, you will succeed,” Murguia said. “We are adjourned."