For every courtroom prosecutor or police officer who has committed themselves to upholding or enforcing the law, their decision to go into that line of work had to start somewhere. And though it may be too soon to tell, that inspiration for future careers may have been sparked this past week within the students of Moffat County High School.
As part of MCHS’s Law Week, students in Liane Davis-Kling’s government classes were able to pick the brains of the professionals who work within various capacities of the legal system.
The week began with kids sitting down for a Q-and-A session with members of the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol, during which students queried about what the officials’ jobs entailed and what kind of criminal offenders they had encountered.
One topic seemed to dominate the dialogue, Davis-Kling said.
“They had a lot of traffic questions,” she said.
As the week progressed, classes went on field trips to the Moffat County Courthouse, as well as a tour of the jail within the Public Safety Center. Davis-Kling said she arranged the week’s events to include all different facets of the law at the local level which someone of any age should have some familiarity.
“I try to do this from a citizen’s point of view, because you might have to serve on jury duty someday or get a speeding ticket or you might be arrested,” she said. “It’s a look at how the entire thing works.”
While at the courthouse, students met with Moffat County Court Judge Sandra Gardner, who explained how she first came to be involved in the legal world. For her, it was mediating a property dispute between her siblings that led to her realizing her skills for such work, becoming an attorney and eventually sitting on the bench.
Gardner fielded questions about her time as a judge, such as the difficulty of remaining impartial and the aftereffects of some of her rulings, whether they’ve been taken to an appellate court or just provoked an unpleasant reaction then and there.
Like many in her station, Gardner has been threatened by defendants who were not too happy with the verdict of their respective cases.
“It’s not a popular position, and I’ve had to make some hard decisions that have affected people’s lives,” she said. “But, it’s all part of public service.”
Gardner said she thinks the majority of those who pass through the courtroom legitimately are well-intentioned, even if there are plenty of repeat offenders.
“They’re good people who have just made some bad decisions,” she said.
When asked if her average day was anything like that of television’s “Judge Judy,” Gardner said there were some major differences.
“‘Judge Judy’ has got everything scripted so she already knows what’s going to happen,” she said. “I can guarantee you I don’t make as much money as she does either. Those shows are really all about entertainment.”
Gardner added that while most Americans could identify the star of such a show, the names of United States Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts are less recognized.
One element of court Gardner enjoys is a trial by jury, where citizens are able to participate in the proceedings and fulfill their American duty.
“With a jury, I get to act like a referee,” she said.
MCHS junior Conner Kopsa said he came away from Law Week with a better understanding of what people in Moffat County’s legal system do.
“It think it solved a lot of misconceptions,” he said. “We got to see the other side of everything.”
As someone whose goal is to begin a career in social work, junior Yuri Mendoza said getting a glimpse of the courtroom environment gave her an idea of what might be in her future.
“I want to go into child abuse (prevention) because I’m just so against that,” she said.
Ultimately, the lesson students took away was how choices good or bad could shape them down the line.
“We’ve just got to make the right decisions and not choose the wrong path,” Mendoza said.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.