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Law camp teaches teens about profession

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While many teenagers spend their summers at the pool, as camp counselors, or at other summer jobs flipping burgers or slinging mall merchandise, 24 high school students decided to spend two weeks at the only law school camp for teenagers in Indiana and one of about a dozen in the country.

The Teen Law College at Valparaiso University School of Law, which took place for the first time June 13-26 and will continue as an annual summer event, was organized for high school students who have an interest in becoming attorneys.
 

camp Teen Law College participant Bianca Spencer, left, cross-examines Corie Wilkins during a mock trial at Valparaiso University School of Law. (Photo submitted)

During the program, students took law-school level classes about criminal law, alternative dispute resolution, legal writing and research, torts, forensic evidence, constitutional law, contracts, appellate, and international law. They also prepared and presented a criminal mock trial; met with law professors, lawyers, and judges; and visited federal and local courtrooms and a jail. It wasn’t all business though as they spent some recreational time with their instructors and each other at a baseball game, at the Indiana Dunes, and at Second City in Chicago.

Of those who attended, just over half were African-American and about two-thirds were girls. Most were from northwest Indiana and Chicago, but others came from California, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin, said program organizer Stephanie Medlock, who joined the law school last year as the school’s director of professional and community studies.

One of the 15 instructors for the program, Bruce Berner, has taught at the law school since 1971. He worked with students in the first week on criminal law issues.

Sometimes people forget the importance of diversity, he said.

“The real effect of diversity is how it affects everyone. We’re trying to train people to go into a world that is diverse. That was an important part of this,” he said.

To help students who otherwise couldn’t afford the program – including students whose families a year or two ago could have afforded it but had experienced changes in income due to the economy – the law school awarded scholarships to many participants.

The cost of the camp without a scholarship was almost $3,000, which included tuition, room and board, and entertainment expenses for trips.

The students stayed in dorms on Valparaiso University’s campus and ate at a campus dining hall. Law students served as resident assistants and were impressed with how much work students did outside of the classroom.

Medlock also was impressed with the high school students’ efforts.

“I was just elated,” she said. “They were so smart, like bright shiny new pennies. … Maybe some of us had the fear we would be looking across a sea of bored faces … but these were people who pre-selected themselves for this program. They were unflagging in their enthusiasm.”

While the students are still in high school, the level of education they received was not. From 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and some evening programs, they worked with instructors who typically teach law students. They also visited a federal judge in Chicago, watched hearings at the Porter County Courthouse, and visited the Porter County Jail.

One way Medlock tried to determine the best way to reach the students was by talking to Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel, an adjunct professor at the law school who has been in the office for more than 20 years.

Gensel has worked with high school students on mock trials and worked at the law camp as well. At the end of the two weeks, the students presented their mock trials at the Porter County Courthouse.

“What Stephanie didn’t know was that mock trial work stresses out everyone involved. But my experience is that students put their game faces on. … I was very impressed how these kids had a mastery of the case they were assigned,” he said.

He added that with only two intense weeks of preparation, they did as well as students he’s worked with who had eight weeks to prepare.

The case regarded an armed robbery and was part of the mock trial program of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. Split into six groups of four to present three versions of the same case, each student portrayed a lawyer and a witness.

One of the students who participated was Joshua Cooper, 17, who will start his senior year at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago. His mom, who he lives with in Plainfield, Ill., said she was thrilled for him to have the opportunity because he has wanted to be a lawyer for a long time.

“School wasn’t always easy for him until he found his passion,” Veoria Cooper said, but once he realized his interests, the importance of education clicked for him. She said she sends him to private school because he’s a good student and she wants him to have opportunities that come from a good education.

Joshua said he most enjoyed the classroom experience, particularly lessons about the appeals process, constitutional law, and international law.

“I really enjoyed the classes, and I’m happy I was able to be a part of something that furthered my knowledge on the subject and cemented in my mind that this is what I want to do,” he said.

His mom said he is considering Valparaiso for college and would likely attend the law school based on the summer experience.

“I think it’s valuable to give them an idea of what the law does, its value to society, what it takes to be a good lawyer. It might also help inform them how they go about their collegiate experience. … If none of those kids go to law school, there isn’t a loss. They still have a good sense of how the law works,” which makes them better citizens, Berner said.

While Medlock and other organizers considered the program a success on many levels, she said the only thing she would do differently would be to add more breaks for the students.

She also thanked the law school for supporting the program and said she is working on other programs, including one for professionals outside of the legal community.•

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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