“Kids have lots of options open to them and some of them are thinking that they want to be lawyers. They’ve been studying the law all year as part of the gifted program at Abington School District and they wanted to come to a courtroom,” said Judge Gail A. Weilheimer, who volunteered to host 28 students from Rydal and McKinley elementary schools for the mock trial exercise during some down time in her courtroom. “They’ve been studying the Constitution and the legal system all year and this was their culminating field trip.”
“They could have just observed a piece of a case, which may or may not have given them a lot of insight, but instead, to have them participate in the trial process it brings it to light for them,” added Weilheimer. “I’m hopeful that for kids who might be thinking of law that this helps them decide this is an option for them.”
|Montgomery County Judge Gail A. Weilheimer/|
Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
The 12-year-old students appeared excited to be in a court of law and they took their roles as prosecutors, defense lawyers, witnesses and jurors very seriously during the mock trial that borrowed characters from the 1800s fairy tale “The Story of the Three Bears” to spin a tale of courtroom drama.
“Baby Bear’s chair was destroyed and most of his porridge was eaten,” a boy who portrayed Papa Bear testified for prosecutors from the witness box. “We found Goldilocks sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed!”
With long, blonde hair and blue eyeglasses, the young lady who portrayed Goldilocks, perhaps, should consider a career as an actress because she played her part to perfection.
“I was tired and so hungry,” she told the student jurors, claiming the door to the home was open and that her hunger was so great she couldn’t resist the porridge.
“I wish all my clients testified as good as Goldilocks,” quipped defense lawyer Michael John, who volunteered to coach the students arguing the defense case.
|Exhibit during mock trial Commonwealth vs "Goldilocks"|
Assistant District Attorney Rachel Becker volunteered to coach the student prosecutors.
“The kids are very inquisitive and naturally curious about the whole process and their questions showed great ability to grasp the issues. They’re pretty good at it,” Becker said.
“It’s been a pleasure. The kids have been fabulous. Their interest and the way they approached it has just been really, really great. They were picking it up pretty well," John added.
Throughout the exercise, Weilheimer explained the trial process and introduced the kids to various legal concepts. The students got to observe the inner workings of the trial system.
Becker, with the assistance of the students, argued to the jurors that Goldilocks “intentionally stood on the chair and caused damage” during a home invasion and should be convicted of theft, criminal mischief and defiant trespass.
But John and his students argued, “This is about necessity. She needed food, clothing and shelter.”
When it came time for the student jurors to deliberate, the judge reminded them, “Remember, you are to act respectfully to each other when reaching your verdict.”
The students ended up convicting poor Goldilocks of theft and criminal mischief and acquitting her of defiant trespass. A student judge, Weilheimer’s son, Ethan, sentenced Goldilocks to two years’ probation and ordered her to pay restitution for the broken chair and the porridge she ate.
John, trying to keep a straight face, said Goldilocks was “devastated” by the verdict.
At the conclusion of the mock trial, the judge took questions from the students and some gleefully took a seat on the bench and posed for photographs while holding the judge’s gavel. I’m sure it’s a day that the students will remember for years to come.
For me, it was a welcome respite from all the usual mayhem that plays out in court.
Kudos to all who participated in an exercise that combined education and fun.