A lesson on the law

Published 10:47 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson talks to John F. Kennedy Middle School students during National Law Day Wednesday.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson talks to John F. Kennedy Middle School students during National Law Day Wednesday.

Marking National Law Day, commonwealth’s attorneys from Virginia’s Fifth Judicial District visited local middle schools Wednesday to talk about the rule of law and how to stay on the right side of it.

At John F. Kennedy Middle School, seventh-graders from Lisa Sexton’s civics class heard from Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson about becoming a lawyer.

“It wasn’t easy,” Ferguson said of his studies at the old Suffolk High School and The College of William & Mary, where he “wasn’t necessarily a straight-A student.”

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“I just kept going and persevering as best I could, and I made it through. … Life is an ongoing proposition. … The main thing, you have got to keep moving forward, and if you do that, you will do pretty well.”

Ferguson, with Community Outreach Coordinator Joan Turner also joining in, told students about the types of cases the office prosecutes, describing some of the more interesting individual ones and explaining why he has remained in his role for “basically most of my professional life.”

“If you can take somebody committing crimes and remove them from the streets … people will feel safe in their homes,” Ferguson said.

“Maybe it goes back to when I was a child,” he added, describing an interview he gave to a newspaper reporter as a 4-year-old.

“The lady asked me what I wanted to do. I said, ‘I want to be a sheriff, and I want to lock people up.’

“I’m not the sheriff, but I’m involved in taking people doing bad things, removing them from society and locking them up.”

But he enjoys turning people away from crime, the prevention side of the job, much more than locking them up, Ferguson said.

The commonwealth’s attorneys’ talks involved a strong anti-gangs message. Ferguson told Sexton’s students that if they get involved in gangs, they will end up behind bars, or worse.

Some of the assistant commonwealth’s attorneys spoke to students at Forest Glen and John Yeates middle schools.