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San Juan County Courts held its First Annual Law Day Celebration May 25

June 4, 2024 –San Juan County District Court invited seventh grade students from across the county to participate in their first Law Day celebration on May 15, 2024. Sixty-five students from Friday Harbor and Orcas Island visited the courthouse and participated in law-themed activities hosted by San Juan County Law and Justice departments, including a mock trial, career panel, civics lessons, games, and tours.

Law Day, held nationally on May 1, is an annual day set aside to celebrate the rule of law in the United States. Law Day was initially conceived by the American Bar Association in 1957 as an opportunity to celebrate how our law and legal process protect our liberty and contribute to the freedoms that all Americans share.

In 1961, the United States Congress designated May 1 as the official date of Law Day. Today, many courts across the country celebrate Law Day by hosting programming for students in May, with a wide variety of activities, lessons, and themes. While there are many educational programs to bring judges and the courts into classrooms, Law Day programs provide an opportunity to bring students into the courthouse to see our local governments up close. In anticipation of the San Juan County Courts’ celebration, the San Juan County Council signed a proclamation declaring May 15, 2024 as our county Law Day this year.

“This year was San Juan County’s first year inviting students to the courthouse for Law Day,” said District Court Judge Carolyn Jewett. “Our biggest goal was to give the students a fun experience, while introducing them to the people who work in our County government. Concepts like ‘democracy’ and ‘the justice system’ can be really abstract, so this is our chance to show kids their own legal system in their own community.”

District Court Administrator Mellissa Derksema organized the event by putting together a planning team with other San Juan County Law and Justice departments, including Superior Court, County Clerk, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Sheriff’s Office.

Students arrived at the courthouse starting at 11 a.m. and rotated through activity stations throughout the County Courthouse and Legislative Building. In the Superior Court courtroom, students learned about the three branches of government in activities led by Superior Court Services Director Linnea Anderson, Superior Court Administrator Jane Severin, Jury Manager Lisa Pignatiello and student volunteer Julia van Dongen.

Students also learned about principles of democracy by creating their own “symbols of democracy” and working in groups to write a social media post that would promote democracy. In the District Court courtroom, Judge Jewett led students through a scripted criminal mock trial, with Prosecuting Attorney Amy Vira, local attorneys Shawn Alexander and James McCubbin, and District Court Clerk Carmen Tompkins assisting the mock litigants.

 

Downstairs, Sheriff Eric Peter introduced students to the Sheriff’s Office and gave them an up-close tour of a patrol vehicle. Across the street at the Legislative Hearing Room, County Clerk Lisa Henderson moderated a career panel where students met County Councilmember Jane Fuller, Elections Manager Camolyn Armstrong, and Senior Deputy Civil Prosecutor Jonathan Cain.

Along the way, groups of students were led by volunteer tour guides (Public Defender Alex Frix, Probation Officer Brad Fincher, and District Court Clerk Laurie Wilson) who pointed out the many departments housed in the Courthouse. Their tour included the Financial Wing of the Courthouse, where Assessor John Kulseth explained the roles of the Assessor’s Office, Auditor’s Office, and Treasurer’s Office.

“This program was only possible with the help of many volunteers and staff,” said Judge Jewett. “So many County departments and private attorneys donated their time and efforts to making Law Day happen. I had such a wonderful time meeting all these students, and we’re already thinking about next year and working on ways to build even more into the program.”

 

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