“Do something not only for yourself, but for your community at large,” stated Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, in his keynote address at MSBA’s Law Day celebration, held April 21 at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center.
The day’s program – entitled “Teen Courts: A Success Story for Maryland Youth” and cosponsored by the MSBA Public Awareness Committee, the MSBA Youth at Risk Committee, Maryland Teen Court Association (MDTCA) and Citizenship Law Related Education Program (CLREP) – offered the 205 adults and youth who had traveled from around the state to attend the conference an opportunity to better their knowledge of the law, as well as its importance in our daily lives. In addition to Bell, Maryland Secretary of Juvenile Services Donald W. DeVore spoke to the audience on the success and benefits of Teen Court programs throughout the state.
“We commend teen courts, and feel we need to do everything we can to support it,” said DeVore. “Youth must know that people from the community care about them.”
Judge Jamey H. Hueston, MDTCA Chair and one of the founders of the teen court in Baltimore City, opened the conference. MSBA President Alison L. Asti greeted the attendees and introduced Bell, who delivered his keynote address.
The group then broke out into workshops which focused on everything from trial procedures, advice on procedures and court room strategies to a panel of teens who have participated in Teen Courts. Still other workshops offered groups help in understanding the steps that must be taken to start a teen court in their area, how handling traffic cases work, differences in the juvenile justice system and restorative justice.
After lunch, DeVore spoke to the group on the importance of youth courts.
“The further a youth penetrates our system, the less likely they will have a good outcome,” noted DeVore. “Our goal is to empower counties to become involved with the youth in their communities.”
DeVore’s remarks were followed by a mock youth court hearing. The Honorable Joan B. Gordon, Associate Judge of the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City, presided over the hearing. The mock hearing pulled students out of the audience to serve as the jury, and engaged the audience by taking a raise-of-hand vote as to what the punishment should be.
The mock trial was followed by a panel of the day’s presenters as well as teen court leaders from throughout the state, with the Honorable Pamila Brown, Chair of the MSBA Public Awareness Committee, moderating the question-and-answer session. The interactive session featured input from both the panelists as well as the audience, which was able to answer a panelist’s question regarding alternative punishments.
The conference closed with some audience members going home with donated door prizes ranging from gift cards to “Guitar Hero” equipment.
“It helps people become better citizens,” said Bell, speaking of the court system. “The people involved need to understand the system. This is a golden opportunity, and [I] urge you to take full advantage of [it].”