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Fourth Grade Thank You Notes

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Children, Legal

Last month, I participated in a local elementary school’s annual career day.  As in years past, I requested the fourth graders.  Fourth graders are fun because they articulate interesting viewpoints with a refreshingly child-like enthusiasm.

The toughest part is competing against the fireman with the truck, the paramedic, and the vet with the dog.  This year I even saw someone from the bomb squad in the halls!  (I assume he was there because of career day.)  To liven up my 20-minute presentation on the law, I engage the students in a quick mock trial.  I give them a scenario and pick kids to play Plaintiff, Defendant, Lawyers, Judge and Bailiff.  The rest of the class is the jury.  I tell each lawyer to say a couple of things to try to convince the jury that his/her client should win, and then the jury votes for the winner.  The remaining few minutes are spent answering questions about being a lawyer.

As in past years, I received thank you notes from the students.  I love the notes!  Reading them has been a high point of my week.  Here are a few snippets (edited for spelling).

“It was so fun playing the plaintiff.  I might be a lawyer when I grow up.”

“I am not being a lawyer.  They are boring job to do.  Because you go to the court house every once and a while.”

“You know what I want to be is a movie star, because I would love to meet Justin Beiber because he can sing and he is really cute.”

“What I want to be when grow up is a spy then a movie star.  The reason I want to be a spy is because I want to help the world.  The other reason is because the secret weapons.”

And my favorite:  “What I wanna be when I grow up is a brain surgeon.  Why?  Because I think it will be interesting and specially learning about my brain maybe I will give you some facts about your brain.  I think you would like to hear some facts about your brain.”

Even the Judge Asked, Did I Really Just Say That?

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One of the most memorable moments in my legal experience happened before I was officially a lawyer.  I attended law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1994 – 1997. During the summer of 1995, between my first and second years of law school, I interned for one of the state court trial-level judges.  One of my law school colleagues also interned for this judge.  We had a number of interesting experiences with the court and its staff that summer (car chase, anyone?), but the most interesting legal experience happened during one of the many trials which my colleague and I observed.

The case arose from a dispute between two neighbors in a rural part of Davidson County, the county in which Nashville was located.  As I recall, one neighbor was a fit policeman who liked jogging and little dogs.   Let’s call him Sport.  The other neighbor was an older, probably retired man who lived a couple of doors down and liked neither jogging nor little dogs. Let’s call him Gramps.  Gramps was irritated by the fact that Sport would jog in the middle of the street.  Gramps complained about this. At one point, one of Sport’s little dogs – a toy poodle, if I recall correctly – barked or lunged at Gramps.

Gramps was the first to escalate the dispute to court.  He filed a vicious dog charge against Sport. Sport prevailed against this charge and filed a malicious prosecution charge against Gramps.  Sport won, and Gramps was ordered to stay a certain number of feet away from Sport at all times.

Sport continued jogging in the middle of the road, and Gramps continued to be irritated by this. Gramps decided to get evidence of this.  He stood out in his front yard and videotaped Sport jogging in the middle of the road.  Sport noticed this and went back to court, complaining that Gramps violated the restraining order by videotaping Sport.

Our judge had to listen to the evidence and decide whether or not Gramps violated the restraining order.  If he did, then our judge was going to have to put Gramps in jail for a certain amount of time.  This decision was the judge’s alone.  Because it was a bench trial, there was no jury to vote for either Sport or Gramps.

After the lawyers for Gramps and Sport finished putting on their cases, the judge excused himself from the bench and ordered my colleague and me to join him in chambers.  He asked us what we thought he should do.  My colleague gave an excellent and well-reasoned answer about how Gramps had a constitutional right to be in his yard, videotaping or not.  The judge then turned to me.  My words slipped out without much thought.  I said something along the lines of, Gramps needs to get a life.  He needs to get a t.v. show or something, like Matlock.

The judge took a few minutes to consider our input then reconvened the trial to issue his ruling from the bench.  After describing for the record the general issue and the possible penalty at stake, the judge indicated that he was not going to put Gramps in jail.  Instead, the judge told Gramps that he needed to get a life.  That he needed to get a t.v. show or something. On the record.

After the case was dismissed and we all gathered again in chambers, the judge looked at my colleague and me and asked if he had really just said that out loud.  In court.