Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, this Microsoft Teams meeting is now in session.

Those words weren’t invoked but they could have been as a panel of more than a dozen judges held a virtual session with 7th grade students at Central Academy for a discussion about the legal system and the educational path for careers in the law and judiciary.

The session was part of the educational outreach work done by the American Bar Association, and the expert panel represented the breadth of the judicial system. Participating jurists from across the country included U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court judges, state appellate and trial court judges, along with municipal court judges, administrative law judges, and even a recently retired judge from a U.S. Air Force tribunal.

The ABA brought the program to Des Moines thanks to a friendship between Tony Voss, a gifted and talented consultant at DMPS, and Emily Chafa, an Iowa administrative law judge (and North High graduate). Judge Chafa is also Iowa’s representative on the ABA’s educational outreach committee. While these sessions with students are typically held in person in the cities where the ABA holds its national conventions, during these virtual times more schools and schools can be reached.

After learning more about Central’s 7th grade Prep Academy, and the diverse student body it serves from across the city, the connection was made, both literally and figuratively, and a date was set.

Following introductions of the distinguished panel everyone broke off into small group discussions. Justice Steven David of the Indiana Supreme Court and Judge David Connors of Utah’s Second District Court held court (pun intended) with a group of a dozen students. While often times judges are the ones asking questions, this was a time for them to be the questioned:

“Are you allowed to talk about your cases to anyone?”
While most court trials and decisions are public, judges only talk about cases with a small number of people they work with, and need to take care to be impartial and unbiased about the arguments before them.

“Did you do any activities when you were younger that helped prepare for your jobs?”
Both judges agreed that learning how to be a good writer is an important skill for a judge as well as activities, such as debate, that help you think and speak on your feet.

“What are other jobs in the judicial system that people don’t hear about often?”
While the men and women in black robes are the ones who get the attention, David and Connors pointed to a lot of people behind the scenes who are important to the work of the judiciary, from law clerks who help with research and writing to the clerks of court who maintain many of the important records to court reporters who capture the testimony in trials.

“What would you do if you weren’t a judge?”
The decision by David and Connors was unanimous: they would be teachers.

For the 7th grade Prep Academy students, the path to becoming a judge one day is more than a few years down the road: there’s still five years of middle and high school, four years of college, three years of law school, and then gaining experience as an attorney. But, no one who took part in today’s session will be surprised if someday one or more of these students have “Honorable” in front of their name.

In the meantime, to continue their interest, the ABA promised to send each student a booklet on the Constitution of the United States.

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