Teen Court swears in 58
Randy Jones was in Woodford Teen Court Wednesday, Nov. 30, convicted of fourth degree assault after beating up a classmate who stole his girlfriend and insulted him. He'd also struck a teacher who got in the way. The stakes, at least for a high school football player, were high: suspension from school and several games, anger management classes, and looking on were a very large jury of his peers, prosecuting and defense attorneys, and even a bailiff to step in if things got out of hand. Of course, none of this was real, though the details of the case were borrowed from real life for the final night of Woodford Teen Court training. "Randy Jones" was played by Syrena Sharlow. Her attorneys were Addison Beck, Rebecca Lawson and Sarah Karbach, her prosecutors were Olivia Raybourne, Ava Crawford and Makenzie Delmonico, and Chandler McFarland was the bailiff. For the 58 teenagers in the Woodford District Courtroom that night, it was a final practice for what may be a real role in a judicial proceeding. Woodford is one of 22 Kentucky counties that offers some juveniles convicted of crimes an opportunity to let their peers decide their fate. The students, many of whom had family members watching, had undergone five weeks of training to qualify them to serve in a Teen Court, which is an alternative to a juvenile court. Six years ago, Woodford District Judge Vanessa Dixon began the Teen Court program in Woodford County. Fellow District Judge Mary Jane Phelps, who's run the Scott County Teen Court since 2000, said Dixon was unable to oversee the Woodford edition this year, so she took it over. "I know the advantages of the program and I wanted to see it continue here," Phelps said before the mock trial and swearing-in. The lessons were taught over five weeks by Phelps and real-life attorneys: Woodford Teen Court coordinator Ellen Moore, Woodford County Attorney Alan George, Josh McWilliams, Jim Springate and Pat Mulloy. The students, between the ages of 13 and 17, learned about the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors and bailiffs by participating in mock trials. After the swearing-in, which includes an oath of confidentiality, the graduates can volunteer to participate in the sentencing phase of a real Teen Court, which some defendants can choose over juvenile court. "We usually give them (the defendants) an option unless it's something pretty serious. They would go to (juvenile) court for that. And then they would have to plead guilty, and then they would agree to come to Teen Court and have their sentence determined by the Teen Court," Phelps said. The defendant has to comply with the sentence handed down by the teen jury, Phelps said. "Community service, writing a report, whatever. And if they don't, they get referred back to court. If they do, their charge is dismissed," Phelps said. Every Teen Court graduate gets community service credits for clubs and other groups, and many follow up their training by volunteering for a real trial. "Randy" was questioned by prosecutors and his attorneys, after which came closing arguments. In questions to "Randy," his attorneys made the case that he had no record of violence, had lost his girlfriend to "Brock" (the boy he beat up and a former friend) and that he'd never gotten to say goodbye to his father, who died a few months before the assault. The prosecution said his actions were simply a matter of revenge against "Brock," and asked jurors to rule that "Randy" must write a letter of apology to him and their teacher, be suspended for two football games, undergo anger management counseling and serve on Teen Court. Both sides rested and the jury of several dozen students didn't decide the fate of "Randy" - perhaps because there were so many of them. Phelps administered the oath and the parents applauded. Earlier, Mikayla Spencer, a senior at Woodford County High School in her second year of Teen Court training, spoke about what she'd learned. "I really think that Teen Court is a really unique opportunity for students who have any sort of interest in government to see it and experience it on their own. Personally, I plan on going to law school in the future, and I do see myself in a courtroom, so it's a really awesome opportunity for me," she said.