BY GOWRI ABHINANDA
NEWS COPY EDITOR
On October 11, I was given the opportunity to attend and participate in the Informed Voters Project located in the Broward Courthouse. This project provided me with legal and political insights, which became a pleasant educational experience in my life. This program was offered through the Bay’s Debayte team, and because I was a part of the team, I was able to expand my horizons about political science and the judicial systems.
The day started with a general introduction to what the opportunity was, followed by a quick civics overview, which consisted of the basics, such as what the three branches of government and different court levels are. After this refresher, all of the students were split into three groups where we rotated into each courtroom for different engaging activities that would educate us about politics and law.
Continuing in groups, the first activity that I was exposed to was Jeopardy. This game had questions relating to the criminal justice system from the state to the federal level. To play, we split our group into two teams and waited for questions. Once they were called out, we hit a buzzer they had set up and said the answer. If it was correct, the team would gain anywhere from 200 to 1000 points. The team with the most points was allowed to have a photoshoot wearing the judges’ gowns. The game was not only competitive and fun, but it also provided us with knowledge about the differences in judicial levels, like district courts, the appellate level and the Supreme Court. Learning about the differences between these levels allowed us to see the distinct experience needed to serve. It also gave perspective into the different powers and oversight each court level has over the people. While the Supreme Court trumps all, the appellate and district courts handle cases that can be later challenged to work their way up from the district level to the Supreme Court. The contrasting sections in Jeopardy also provided students with a clear distinction of the difference between politics and law. A common misconception that some students held was that the terms were interchangeable or synonymous. However, politics pertains to interactions between policymakers and is focused on political parties and the public’s interests, its discourse. Law, on the other hand, concentrates on the law that governs the land and how it is enforced, which is where career paths, such as judges, come into play as they interpret the law.
Next on the agenda was a game of Bingo. Bingo focused on different laws, like the Bill of Rights, the Miranda Rights and different governing principles and amendments. Like Jeopardy, it was engaging and when a question would be called out, we would have to provide the answer first to see if it was correct before marking it on the sheet. I personally learned about different clauses inside of laws that I had not known about before, and it was a good way for the new information to be absorbed as it was through a game. At the end of Bingo, the winner earned a $5 gift card to Chick-fil-A. Although the games of Bingo and Jeopardy were fun and educational, the final session in the courthouse was the most captivating experience for me.
While the games seemed a bit childish to me, I valued the last component of the visit to the Broward County Courthouse as the best since we got to interact with judges. We were able to meet or interact with Honorable Judge Elijah Williams and even the Chief Judge Jack Tuter. In this last gathering, the coordinators had the students have a question and answer session with them. Many questions were asked, which inquired about their educational path, their most compelling cases and technical questions about proceedings, like how to go about rectifying a mistake if they were to wrongly convict someone. They also shared personal stories of how they found themselves serving at the Broward County Courthouse. I found Honorable Judge Elijah William’s story of serving as a judge the most compelling as when he first started out, he was working in juvenile court. He said that although some of his rulings seemed gut-wrenching to him, he made these tough calls to be sure he would be able to rehabilitate these teens. During his time in juvenile court, he had sent students my age to jail, and while it seems harsh, he said these verdicts have turned their life around for the better and they do not engage in crime. His stories about his time as a juvenile court judge were interesting to listen to and eye-opening to me as there were children that were high schoolers, just as I am, that have had different outcomes and experiences in life due to the criminal justice system.
After hearing what input the judges had to offer, I was even more interested in hopefully pursuing a career in political science or law as I want to make an impact just as Honorable Judge Elijah Williams did with the children. The Informed Voters Project was worthwhile and a great experience that exposed me to valuable information that has inspired me to continue involving myself in the community to positively impact my peers just like our laws, political leaders and judges at the Broward County Courthouse strive to do.