Court’s in session: Students get in-person lesson on May 1st Law Day

Times Observer photos by Josh Cotton Kris Bunk, a senior at Eisenhower Middle High School, was the defendant during a mock trial held as part of Law Day at the Warren County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Students from throughout the county had the opportunity to learn about the law from a slate of professionals on Wednesday.

Law Day saw high school seniors come to the Warren County Courthouse to hear local judicial officials and witness a mock trial.

Law Day was established in 1958 as a counter to May Day, which was celebrated in many Communist countries.

Now, it’s an annual observance that brought President Judge Maureen Skerda and members of the Warren County Bar Association together with counts students for an up-close look at varying elements of the law.

“I hope you find this day very interesting,” Skerda said. “(We) hope to be able to challenge you a little bit.”

Warren County Bar Association President Nathaniel Schmidt speaks to students during Law Day on Wednesday. President Judge Maureen Skerda is at left.

The American Bar Association sets a theme each year for the event and this year is “Voices of Democracy.”

“What makes a democracy strong? One of the first things I think about is knowledge,” Skerda said. “I think there’s another word that’s important that you probably don’t use very often – civility…. It’s a way of having a society survive. (We) need to be able to respect and tolerate each other’s viewpoints.”

Due process protections were a consistent theme in the program.

Skerda, First Assistant District Attorney Cody Brown, Chief Public Defender Kord Kinney, attorney Meghan Willey and Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Dwight Damcott tried “Jack Danielson” – played by Eisenhower senior Kris Bunk – on charges including DUI.

While they had some fun with some of the details, the criminal information, lines of questions, etc. are as they would have been in an actual trial.

Shawn Estes, the county’s family hearing officer, used what was intended to be an outlandish story to show just how quickly incidents can spiral out of control.

Students may not have known the specific charges Estes may have netted in his hypothetical but he pointed out that they did know generally that trouble was coming because “you were born into a nation of laws.”

“The justice system can be very slow and inefficient or seems to be inefficient,” he cautioned. “It can be frustrating for people who are involved.”

Skerda gave the students a sense for the kind of cases that make up the legal work at the courthouse – 305 criminal cases in 2022, 202 civil cases, 166 juvenile court issues but the majority? Family law. Skerda identified 83 PFAs, 475 child support cases, 54 paternity cases and 209 custody and visitation matters in 2022 alone.

“The perception is all we do is criminal,” she said. “I want you to understand we do a lot more.”

Willey addressed the students on how to enter the legal profession.

“You can major in anything before you go to law school,” she stressed.

An additional part of the program allowed Elections Director Krystle Ransom to address the students on how to register to vote as well as opportunities to work as poll workers, which several of the students had already done.

“These rights should not be taken lightly,” Skerda said. “We need you. We need you as citizens to assist us to make government work.”


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