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Legal community supports civic education efforts

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After winning the We The People simulated congressional hearing competition in December, one of the largest first-place teams in Indiana in at least seven years will head to Washington, D.C., for the national competition in late April.

While the legal community has historically supported various high school teams from Indiana over the years via donations through sections of the Indiana State Bar Association and by giving their time to coach students, for the first time, individual attorneys can donate funds through the Indiana Bar Foundation's Web site, www.inbf.org, until March 5.

We The People is a civic education program where students study six units: philosophical and historical underpinnings of the Constitution; writing of and debates about the Constitution; Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln through the civil rights movement; modern day functions of the branches of government and federalism; Bill of Rights and civil liberties; and current applications of the units and international relations.

Near the end of the semester-long class, students can participate in the competition of a series of mock congressional hearings. At the hearings, students answer questions from members of the community who volunteer to be judges.

Erin Braun, director of Civic Education and We The People state coordinator at the IBF, said the class of 28 students will need approximately $30,000 to cover their expenses, which include food, hotel, travel, and tours of various national landmarks.

The reason she and others are asking for funding is because the students do a better job if they're more concerned about competing than fundraising, she said.

Teams from Indiana have consistently placed in the top 10 in the country in recent years. In 2009, Indiana's team - represented by Hamilton Southeastern High School students - placed fifth.

Those who support the teams' efforts consider it among the best things they do.

ISBA President Roderick Morgan is involved with the program and said he looks forward to judging the program in Washington, D.C.

"I've judged the competitions at the elementary, middle school, and high school level," he said. "It's one of most refreshing things I've done in my career. It's a chance to see how young people get an understanding of how the Constitution works and how to apply it."

Morgan said the students take their work seriously.

"There's joy and heartache," he said. "If they miss an answer, they're crestfallen."

R. William Jonas, immediate past-president of the ISBA, continues to support the program.

Braun, along with Eric Steele, state coordinator for Project Citizen, and Kyle Burson, We The People program coordinator, said they couldn't thank Jonas enough for his support over the years, which is why he received the William G. Baker Civic Education Award Dec. 13.

That same night, Shortridge High School principal Brandon Cosby received the John J. Patrick Civic Education Award for his work at the Indianapolis Public School system's magnet school for law and public policy. Cosby heavily incorporated the We The People program into that school's curriculum.

Jonas said he was trying to get the program more of a presence in his congressional district because mock trials are already prevalent in South Bend. He's also working with Braun and Burson to convince South Bend schools to take on the program, and would like other cities in the northern part of the state to consider adding We The People to their schools.

Part of why he wants to see the program spread, he said, "is their research tells them that of the alumni of the program, 80 percent of them vote. This makes it clear these kids learn the importance of voting and they're informed voters when they do vote."

He added lawyers in other states spoke with him at the national competition last year about how the ISBA has been able to get attorneys involved and how they could emulate that in their jurisdictions.

The program is also tailored to students of all abilities, not just honors students, and all students who participate in the program have done well, he added.

"Whole classes are involved ... so it's not cherry-picked people who are all over achievers," he said. "They understand at the competitive level the importance of everyone participating. You see the looks in their eyes, and they draw each other into the conversation and discussion with judges. That's terrific stuff. ... It's how we operate successfully as a country if we can get people to do it."

As far as giving money to support the teams, Jonas said he realized that these are tough economic times and that world events such as the earthquake in Haiti have had an impact on how much people might be able to give.

"All I can tell you is having seen the national finals last year and having seen the Indiana team perform, I would tell you for myself it's an easy choice for me to make as opposed to giving to some other charities," he said.

He added the experience of going to Washington, D.C., might be the only chance for some of the students. Additionally, teams that make it to the top 10 get to compete in a hearing room in one of the congressional office buildings, something they wouldn't otherwise get to experience.

"Unfortunately there's no requirement to have civic education taught in schools," Morgan said, "but I would like We The People to be taught in every school in the state, or the country for that matter. There's a lack of education about what it means to be an American and how it affects our public lives. ... I wish we could get this into more schools."

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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