Class Action Youngsters Provided With Close Look At Legal System

After listening to testimony from lawyers, a police officer and a drunken driver, the jurors were ready for a recess.

The kind of recess you take on a playground, not a courtroom.

“I’m asking you as jurors to keep an open mind in this case,” attorney Dan Rude said as one fifth-grade juror squirmed in his seat and waved at a friend.

On Monday, attorneys Mark Jackson and Dan Rude staged a mock trial at Bryan Elementary School. The event, which featured a real police officer and real judge, was part of Law Day USA.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Law Day in 1958. Its purpose is to educate the community about citizens’ rights and responsibilities in the legal system.

Fifty Kootenai County lawyers spent Monday speaking to students. Along with Jackson and Rude, several other attorneys put on mock trials also sponsored by the Kootenai County Bar Association.

“It gets the kids one step closer to the real legal system,” said Jackson, who acted as the prosecutor.

Six students were appointed to be the jury while more than 60 other fifth-graders watched the trial unfold.

Idaho State Police office Brian Kitchen portrayed a police officer who had stopped a woman named “Harriet Smith” for speeding. He arrested her for drunken driving.

He told the young jurors how he asked the woman to get out of her car and perform a drunken driving test.

“Her eyes were bloodshot and she said she’d been drinking,” Kitchen testified.

“She swayed back and forth like she was going to lose balance.”

He also told them that “Harriet” had trouble saying the alphabet and instead wanted to sing it.

Kathy Booth, a judge’s clerk, played the accused woman. Booth told the jury she had merely been in a hurry to get home from a party because her son had fallen and hurt himself.

She insisted her eyes were red because she’d been crying and she had wobbled during the test because the ground was icy.

“Don’t you think drunk people might sing the alphabet,” asked Jackson.

“Excuse me, I sing the alphabet,” said former magistrate Virginia Balzer who acted as the judge.

“I’d withdraw the question if I were you.”

The young jurors took 10 minutes to decide the accused woman’s fate: Guilty as charged.

“The roads were icy, she was drinking and she was speeding and that could lead to a wreck,” said 10-year-old juror, Eddie Proulx.

“She could have had somebody else drive her,” said Laci Helmhout, 11.

With the verdict in, the rest of the students were ready to hand down Harriet’s sentence.

“Arrest her,” they said.

“Cuff her.”

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