Law-conscious Cavaliers witness justice system

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 10, 2003

One of Suffolk Circuit Courtrooms was filled to capacity Monday morning as students from the Lakeland High School Business Law class were brought before Judge Rodham T. Delk and several prosecuting and defense attorneys.

The students took a hard look at what goes on during criminal proceedings as people being tried for felonies and misdemeanors gave them a peek into the judicial system and how it works in the courtroom. After Judge Delk told the students he was pleased that they would have an opportunity to see the proceedings of the day, he encouraged them to continue their education. He also told them that in almost every case he sees, the defendants had not taken advantage of the educational system.

As if to back up what the judge said, one of the defendants told the judge he was a high school dropout, but that he did have a GED. He was in court for breaking into a school and removing a digital camera and a metal detector.

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When the next defendant was brought out of lockup and into the courtroom, each and every student sat motionless. They seem transfixed as the only sound was the clinking of the shackles and handcuffs as he was led across the courtroom to stand before the judge.

All eyes were fixed on the prisoner as they took in the blaze orange jumpsuit that is the uniform of all jailed defendants. If they hadn’t figured out from the shackles and jumpsuit that he was the defendant, &uot;Regional Jail&uot; emblazoned across the back of the outfit gave him away as he turned his back to the students.

The students were totally absorbed in the events unfolding before them as the judge asked prosecutors, F. Jefferson James and Marie Walls and the defendant’s court appointed attorney to come to the bench. Since the discussion was inaudible to the students, curiosity was unchecked across the room. Still, they sat silently until the attorneys returned to their respective tables and the judge began to speak.

Delk explained that the defense attorney assigned to the defendant had made a motion to withdraw his services as a public defender. The attorney told the court that his client had been so uncooperative that he could not work with him.

The judge did not grant the motion, however, he did advise the defendant that it was certainly to his benefit to work with his lawyer since he was facing life in prison without parole.

The students, almost in one accord, all looked at each other as the judge also told the defendant in no uncertain terms that his lack of cooperation would not delay his trial.

After the judge ordered the prisoner back to jail to await trial on May 15, he explained to the students that in some cases a bail may be posted, but not in instances like this where the defendant had committed violent crimes.

Following the courtroom experience, the students met in private with Judge Delk, and he not only answered many questions from the students, but also discussed some of the rulings they’d witnessed in the courtroom.

The students also visited the office of the Clerk of the Court, where Eula Williams, a 30-year employee in that office, showed them record books dating back to the late 1800s. She also showed them how to look up records, deeds and other information.

Several of the students, all juniors and seniors at Lakeland High, said they plan careers where knowledge of courtroom proceedings would definitely be a plus.

Sarah Jones, daughter of Bobby and Neresa Jones of Hopemont Lane, said that she’s planning a career in finance, and understanding courtroom procedures, costs and fines would help.

Patty Drayton, daughter of Anna and Jack Hornsby of Riverwood Trace, said she’s headed for the University of Virginia or Duke University. She said having a grasp of what goes on inside a real courtroom could only benefit her future as an attorney.

Krystle McLean, daughter of Sharon Newsome, said she’s also planning a law career and that being in a courtroom, watching real cases, has further inspired her dreams.

One young lady, Chante Edmond, of Jonathan’s Way, said she looks forward to a law career with her mom, Sheila Edmond, serving as inspiration. She is a magistrate of the courts for Chesapeake. Chante’s dad is Master Sergeant John Edmond.

The students were accompanied to the courtroom by their business law teacher, Nicole Hemingway.

&uot;This should give them actual hands-on experience in the courtroom and the actual courtroom terminology and procedures should enhance their curriculum as they work through the year,&uot; said Hemingway.

Suffolk Police Officer Troy Shelton also accompanied the students and sponsored their courtroom appearance. He also answered many questions as they moved through the various aspects of their day in court.

Diana Klink, Community Outreach coordinator for the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, planned this special activity for the Lakeland students. She also served as director of activities for the day.

Prior to entering the courtroom Monday, the students met with Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, C. Philips Ferguson. He stressed the importance of getting a good education and staying away from drugs and the &uot;wrong kinds of friends.&uot;

He also told them that most of the people who pass through the courts lack education and begun the downward spiral that brought them under the scrutiny of the law because of those two aspects in their lives.