Episode of ‘NC Law’ for students | TheUnion.com
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Episode of ‘NC Law’ for students

California State Parks Ranger Mike Smittle and his dog Kahn visit with students.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

It was a dark and stormy night, the man at the front of the courtroom intoned.

Tom Anderson, Nevada County’s public defender, set up the scene of a fictional crime for about 55 fifth-graders.

Ready Springs teacher Sandra Truman was sworn in as a “witness” to testify to the identity of a man involved in a crime that occurred on Pine Street.



Real-life attorney Oliver Pong cross-examined Truman, throwing doubt on her ability to identify the suspect in the dark on Pine Street.

Truman and Deer Creek School teacher Denise Reis shepherded their students through the Nevada County courthouse and its old jail for Law Day Friday. Ten groups of fifth-graders from Alta Sierra, Cottage Hill, Mount St. Mary’s, Scotten and Washington schools filed into four different courtrooms and wended their way through the old jail upstairs.




“Where’s my lunch?” Nevada County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Burget yelled down the narrow hall from his jail cell. “Who’s in my house?”

Burget spent the day in an orange jumpsuit in a cell next to sartorial twin, Correctional Officer Dave Nine, both masquerading as inmates.

“The bad guys are in Wayne Brown (Correctional Facility),” Deputy Gary Driscoll assured subdued youngsters.

Downstairs, attorney Cheryl McCall explained to students that family court “tries to calm down fights (between parents) and get them to work together for children.”

The court’s job is to make sure things are safe and healthy for children, McCall explained. Sometimes parents need “a stranger in a black robe “to do that, she said about judges.

“Everyone wants to be part of a family,” Serge Arnonow, a mediator with family court, told kids. “Families are everything.”

One girl asked about the longest divorce McCall had ever handled. One case lasted from the time the babies were born until they were 18 years old, McCall said.

Two kids told McCall they were adopted and they remembered their day in the courtroom.

“Thanks for sharing that,” McCall said. “Adoptions are the happiest days in court. I think that’s really special, when kids get adopted.”

“Whoa!” exclaimed one lad at the sight of eight uniformed officers in the next courtroom.

One lad asked if he could handle the weapons on the belt of Deputy Matt Gross, a school resource officer, should he run into him at school.

“Absolutely,” Gross said. “But I won’t pull the gun out.”

Students groaned at this disappointing news.

If you get lost, stay put, two officers told students during their presentations on their agencies.

Andy Burr, marine patrol officer for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, told kids his job is to go out and play on the lake all day.

“I thank your mom and dad for buying all this stuff for me,” Burr quipped about boats he uses.

Then kids got to play with Kahn, a German Shepherd and partner of Ranger Mike Smittle of California State Parks. Kahn responds only to commands in German.

“I had to go to go to school to learn how to talk to my partner,” Smittle said.

After the glamorous interlude with law enforcement, kids were subdued listening to Judge Al Dover talk about how courts intervene when kids and parents use illegal drugs.

Nadia Baker, an 18-year-old now living in a residential treatment center, told the kids she started using drugs when she was about their age. Arrests followed as she bounced in and out of juvenile hall. Her mother and stepfather used drugs in the house she lived in, she said.

“When you’re on drugs, you don’t have relationships with anyone you care about,” Baker said.

“It’s really hard to stop using drugs,” she said. “I wish I’d never started using them.”

Baker received the first applause of the day.


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