Venturing into the courtroom for the first time is a scary experience for many. The circumstances are usually negative.
But high school seniors from all over Warren and Forest counties had a less intimidating introduction on Thursday in celebration of Law Day.
According to Judge Maureen Skerda, who presided over the morning edition of the event, President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced Law Day on May 1, 1958, as a response to the communist world's celebration of May Day. While May Day was a display of military might, Eisenhower proposed Law Day as a celebration of freedom, Skerda said.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Standing for sentencing
Defendant Kayla Smith — played by Youngsville High School senior Samantha Tome — flanked by Warren County Chief Public Defender John Parroccini, left, and District Attorney Rob Greene — listens as Judge Maureen Skerda pronounces her sentencing on a homicide by vehicle conviction during a mock trial that was part of Law Day observances Thursday at the Warren County Courthouse.
About 200 students attended the morning segment of the event. They represented Eisenhower, Sheffield, Youngsville, and West Forest high schools, and Tidioute Community Charter School and Warren County Christian School. Senior Judge William Morgan presided over the afternoon session with Warren Area High School.
The theme of this year's Law Day was "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters."
"You can say your vote doesn't matter," Skerda said. "It does. It's something you should cherish because... (it is) not part of every country."
Jill Martone, president of the Warren/Forest Bar Association, introduced the students to a number of Warren County's elected officials: Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts Susan Kosinski, Register and Recorder Lori Bimber, Treasurer Dennis Munksgard, Sheriff Ken Klakamp, and District Attorney Rob Greene.
Voter Registrar and Director of Elections Lisa Zuck explained to the students, many of whom are already 18 and eligible to vote, how to register to vote. She added that students may change their registration address if they go away to college or may vote locally by absentee ballot. "You can have a say in who holds those offices and who represents you in local government," she said.
The row officers told students about their roles in the courthouse and county.
The office of the prothonotary and clerk or courts handles paperwork on about 2,000 active civil and criminal court cases at any given time, issues passports, and assists in the selection of juries.
The register and recorder's office issues and keeps records of and sometimes administers licenses and documents including wills, marriages, adoptions, and deed transfers.
The treasurer receives money that comes to the county and makes sure it is kept in the proper accounts. The office also sells dog licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, sportsman's firearm permits, and small games of chance licenses.
The sheriff has a variety of law enforcement duties, from courthouse security, prisoner transport, traffic enforcement, and arrest authority to investigating and issuing handgun carry permits.
Greene, who is elected, and Chief Public Defender John Parroccini, who is not, explained their roles in the court system.
"You've all watched cop shows and court shows," Parroccini said. "'If you can't afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.' That's me. I'm the best attorney money can't buy."
"My job is not to beat the charges," he said. "My job is to protect my client's rights. That's what I do."
"I'm the one who tries to put you in jail," Greene said. "His interest is that criminal defendant. My job is seeking justice - making sure the right person was arrested and the right charges are filed."
"We're all in the justice business," Parroccini said.
They both stressed that an overwhelming majority of the prisoners at the Warren County Jail are there on charges somehow related to drugs or alcohol.
"Don't do drugs, please," Greene said. "If you drink, if you do do drugs - it's stupid - if you do, for God's sake, don't drive."