Fifth graders get to sample justice system during annual South District Court Law Day

Fifth graders from Hazelwood Elementary participate in a mock trial on Law Day at Lynnwood’s South District Court.
Paralegal Golden Heistand helps a student who is playing a defendant in the mock trial.

About 700 fifth graders from 10 schools in the Edmonds School District experienced their first taste of the justice system at Lynnwood’s South District Court during the 35th annual Law Day May 10. They role-played a mock trial of a shoplifting case, learned about traffic safety and how the K-9 unit works, watched a drone demo and asked questions with representatives from the Washington State Patrol.

Several police motorcycles were displayed by the courthouse entrance, and a DUI crash car and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s BearCat were behind the building.

City of Lynnwood Police Sgt. Jacob Shorthill explains to the students the work of K-9 teams.
K-9 Chase “bites” Edmonds Police Officer Josh Hwang during a K-9 presentation.

“Law Day gives the kids an opportunity to come in and not feel intimidated by the court,” said Judge Beth Fraser. “We want people to view the court as a part of the community. We’re regular human beings doing our job and we’re accessible. It’s really nice to be seen that way.”

Fraser recalled her first time volunteering on Law Day as a public defender in the 1990s with Judge Timothy Ryan and attorney Paul Hanson. Hanson has been presiding over the mock trial of Law Day since its beginning in 1986.

Attorney Paul Hanson at the mock trial.
In a mock trial photo from the mid-1990s, at the table (L-R) are attorney Paul Hanson, student Suzanne Jeppson, Judge Beth Fraser (then a public defender), and Suzanne’s sister Megan. At top, Judge Timothy Ryan, left, and current Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Whitney Rivera — then an Edmonds-Woodway High School sophomore — as a judge

Fraser also showed a photo of 16-year-old Whitney Rivera – now a Snohomish County Superior Court judge – who served as a judge of a mock trial in the mid-1990s.

In the mock trial, students played different roles, such as a prosecutor, a defendant, a jury member or a judge. While the trial was scripted, the verdict in each session was different as students determined whether the defendant was guilty or not guilty.

“It’s nice for the students to come in and see the legal process,” said Hazelwood Elementary fifth-grade teacher Hannah LaMont. “One of the standards is to teach fifth graders about elections and government and how it all runs. It’s interesting to see which students want to play different parts. Some want to play the defendant while others were like ‘I don’t want to do the big stuff.’”

Students participate in the mock trial during Law Day.

Legal Process Assistant Renee Navlet has been involved with Law Day since she began working at the South District courthouse in 2008. “I just fell in love with it. It’s such a fun program,” she said. 

Navlet said that Law Day was almost canceled after Judge Carol McRae retired in 2014, but Division Supervisor Rachasel Greenlee and Judge Fraser took over and continued the event with Navlet.

“I used to be up at the front counter and defendants come in and they would say ‘Oh, my gosh, I remember being here for Law Day. We love that,’” Navlet said. “A lot of my friends remember being here.” 

“It’s also fun to have days where we get to see fifth graders and share fun things about the court system,” Fraser said. “We all enjoy it and look forward to it.”

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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