By Rosalyn Gist Porter
When one of Lee Marie Collet’s classmates asked what she did for her summer vacation the 15-year-old Orange County girl can respond without hesitation that she “went to court.”
And Lee Marie has reason to give that answer with pride because she was one nearly 100 middle and high school children who participated in the Law Camp conducted by the office of the Public Defender f or the Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit.
The Law Camp was no “Scared Straight” program for troubled teens. The enthusiastic youths who participated in the Law Camp are members of Boys & Girls Club branches in Orange and Osceola counties.
“The people who work in my office really like kids and talking to middle school and high school students was our way of giving back to our community,” said Public Defender Robert Wesley.
“Putting on a law summer camp was an excellent way to educate youth about the criminal justice system,” Wesley continued. “We want to make sure none of these kids become clients of ours, so we taught them life skills, legal lessons and inspired them to continue their education. We want to inspire a new generation of public defenders.”
The Law Summer Camp has been offered for several years, but this summer was the first time it was facilitated by social workers to put strong on self-esteem; dealing with anger, and mental health – issues that can contribute to violence and crime.
Public Defender’s office staff and interns who work with the teens and collaborated with the curriculum development included Catherine Conlon, Faith Sills, Sean Landers, Ana Taitt, Mike Rodriguez, Lauren Simmons, Yesenia Pecina, Claudia Diaz, Kayla Luu and Amy Tam.
“We structured our summer law camp curriculum so that the youth involved could personalize the content discussed with their own lives,” said Tam, the case worker who served as the point person for the project.
“Some of these activities included the balloon activity (therapeutic technique for anger management), pop culture activity (celebrity case studies), and the personality test activity where kids learned about their individualized learning style,” Tam said.
The youth applied the legal lessons on the last day of the camp when they visited the Orange County courthouse in downtown Orlando and participated in the mock trial of mega star Kanye “East,” who was charged with assaulting a paparazzi who got too close to his wife Kim “Kash.”
Coached by members of the Public Defender’s staff, the youth played almost every courtroom role, including prosecutor, defense attorney, paralegals, witnesses and the jury. After a spirited testimony and cross-examination, the jury adjourned for deliberations.
The jury took only 15 minutes to return with a “not guilty” verdict.
Clearly, these youngsters have the stuff to become the next generation of public defenders.