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Hardin County Teen Court is searching for more local high school students to take over the justice center on Thursday nights this school year.
About 100 students from local high schools are trained and sworn to confidentiality each year, said Hardin District Court Judge Kim Shumate, who has presided over Teen Court since its inception 16 years ago.
After completing 15 hours of mandatory training in the fall, the students begin hearing the sentencing phases of real juvenile cases, Shumate said, fulfilling the roles of jurors, bailiffs, clerks and attorneys.
A defendant goes before Teen Court only after a disposition has been reached in his or her case and referral by a district court judge. Shumate estimated Teen Court averages 20 cases each year.
According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, there are 23 Teen Court sites serving 29 counties with the Hardin County program being one of the largest in caseload and number of student participants.
Aaron DuVall, who graduated in May from John Hardin High School, participated in Teen Court for four years. With each year, he gradually became more involved, he said.
“It really builds on a lot of skills that will be useful to anyone and almost any job that they have, whether it’s public speaking skills or networking and getting to know our community leaders,” DuVall said.
The skill he most developed through the program was public speaking.
“I definitely wasn’t as comfortable with it as I am now after being involved in Teen Court,” he said.
Michael Kimble, who also graduated in the spring from John Hardin, said he also developed public speaking skills through his participation in the program.
His favorite aspect of Teen Court, he said, was the community service.
“As an attorney in Teen Court, I got to prosecute and defend on many different cases,” Kimble said. “As a defense attorney, my job was to bring out the best of my defendant and show the jury his or her character, so they could develop a sentence that was most appropriate to turn his or her life around the best way. As a prosecutor, I got to work with people like Wal-Mart Loss Prevention to see what they have to deal with on a daily basis, so that gave me a lot of perspective.”
Shumate said an interest in a law-related career is not the “driving factor” for students who participate in Teen Court.
“Probably well less than half of the students that come to Teen Court really come because they think they want to be a lawyer or have a law-related career,” the judge said. “They want to make a difference in their community.”
The students who participate, she said, learn many lessons they could not in a classroom, including about the local justice system, teamwork and consequences, she said.
“As a parent, it’s really important to me that they see there are decisions that are made and what those consequences are,” she said.
For those interested in Teen Court, an open house for parents and students is scheduled 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Hardin County Justice Center in Elizabethtown. The event includes registration and a mock trial.
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or email@example.com.