Life lessons learned from the courtroom

Issue October 2012 By James Rosseel

On Friday, Aug. 17, a mock pretrial "motion to suppress" evidentiary hearing was conducted in Courtroom 806 of the Suffolk County Courthouse before Judge Annette Forde of the Boston Municipal Court Department. The prosecution team consisted of Boston Judicial Youth Corps (JYC) interns, and the defense team was comprised of Worcester JYC interns. Forde presided over an engaging, well-prepared and hard fought exchange between this year's Boston and Worcester JYC interns.

Paul J. Liacos, former chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, originally conceived the idea of establishing a program for urban school students in Massachusetts to introduce these students, and others, to the workings of our judicial branch of government. Liacos recruited then Appeals Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland to assist in creating this new program, and Ireland, in concert with Joan Kenney and others from the SJC's Public Information Office, answered the call. The model they established in 1991 has been followed ever since in Boston, and has been duplicated for the last six years in Worcester.

The Worcester JYC program began in 2007 and to date has conducted internships for nearly 100 high school students, most of whom have continued their education at the college and university level. These interns have participated in a 12- to 14-week program and have had the opportunity to learn about the court system and the importance of the rule of law in our free society. The annual four-month program has consisted of two educational components. Beginning in mid-May and continuing through late June, the participating high school students have attended weekly educational sessions that introduce them to the court system in Worcester. Judges, court staff and attorneys volunteer as guest lecturers, covering such topics as juvenile justice, landlord-tenant issues, family law, mediation and the appellate process. By the end of this phase of the program students have a more informed awareness of the five trial courts and are prepared to proceed to the second phase of the program.

The second half of the program extends from early July through August and consists of paid internships in various court offices in the new state courthouse in Worcester. The interns are welcomed as "regular employees" in clerks' offices and probation departments in the Worcester courthouse, and are soon fielding questions from the public at the front counter, or running folders to and from the trial court sessions, or simply helping the office staff to catch up on the backlog of filing and other clerical duties. For many of the interns, this is their first experience with gainful employment, and one that they will not soon forget!

The student-interns also attend an educational session on each Thursday or Friday during the summer phase of the program, and enjoy presentations by the Jury Commissioner's Office, the Public Defenders' Office and the District Attorney's Office. Finally, the interns prepare and present a mock trial, usually presided over by a presiding trial court justice.

The Massachusetts Bar Foundation has been the principal source of funding for the Worcester JYC program, and this has allowed the Worcester program to establish itself as a visible and viable entity in the Worcester judicial community. Efforts are now under way to establish sources of local financial support for the Worcester program for next year and for the years to come. The Boston model has served Worcester well these first six years of the Worcester JYC program. The initiatives that Worcester will soon implement to ensure a self-sustaining and effective local program may serve as a model to other local Massachusetts communities to do likewise. In the process, the program continues to respond to Liacos' challenge, as Ireland did over 20 years ago.

James Rosseel is an educator in the Worcester area who serves as the teacher coordinator for the Massachusetts Bar Association-administered summer Judicial Youth Corps in Worcester.