Local Teachers Go to Summer (Law) School 09/12/18 10:11:08 AM
High school teachers split into work groups to prepare for moot court the second day of the Teachers Law School. From left around the table are: Moira Kennedy, Judge Joseph Bataillon’s law clerk; Stephanie Howell, The Career Academy in Lincoln; Jillian Roger, Marian High School; Rebecca Kegley, Burke High School; Amy Hiddleston, Multiple Pathways, Acceleré, a program of Omaha Public Schools; and Kia Moore, University of Michigan law student and an extern for Judge Bataillon. (Photo by Lorraine Boyd)
Local Teachers Go to Summer (Law) School
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
Some local teachers were introduced to an uncommon classroom to increase their knowledge of law-related education recently.
The teachers, 19 of them from public and private schools in metro Omaha and Lincoln, were eager to experience the Teachers Law School, which has been well-received in other cities around the country and has now been introduced to Nebraska.
“Everyone was so generous with their time and I learned so much,” said Marian High School social studies teacher Jillian Roger. “It is a unique program that we were fortunate to experience.”
Thanks to the efforts of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Political Science Department and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), along with the United States District Court in the District of Nebraska, teachers were able to participate in two days of the judicial system in action.
Hosted by the United States District Court, the event took place at the Roman L. Hruska Federal Courthouse in downtown Omaha.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Joseph Bataillon listens intently to the teachers’ arguments. (Photo by Lorraine Boyd)
Its OriginsZach Wojtowicz, a social studies teacher at Elkhorn High School, UNO alum and a former administrative intern for U.S. District Court Senior Judge Joseph Bataillon, learned of the Teachers Law School program and brought the idea to UNO’s Political Science Department. He saw it as a good fit for his alma mater, especially tying in with the recently launched Campus Compact “Education for Democracy” Program.
Wojtowicz, working with Melanie Whittamore-Mantzios and Dan Friedman of the Nebraska Chapter of ABOTA, teamed with UNO Assistant Professor Paul Landow and Bataillon, also an adjunct professor at UNO, to bring the program to Nebraska.
The agenda included a courtroom visit for a sentencing or motion hearing; voir dire jury role-play – criminal and civil; and discussions of an independent judiciary, the difference between state and federal courts, the development of judicial review and juvenile issues. Lincoln attorneys Dan Friedman and Steve Gealy from the Nebraska Chapter of ABOTA, and juvenile attorney Juliette Summers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Norris and Assistant Federal Public Defender Rich McWilliams participated.
Moot CourtThe linchpin of the program was preparation on day one for a moot court hearing, and the subsequent moot court hearings which wrapped up day two. Preparations were facilitated by local attorneys and paralegals.
The teachers broke up into groups of four or five and spent about two hours strategizing about their moot court case, Elonise v. US, a real case that involved threats on social media. They were assigned to either the defendant or the plaintiff side. The following day they made their arguments in front of one of the participating judges. Bataillon and his fellow United States District Judges John Gerrard and Senior Judge Richard Kopf, along with Judge John Colborn, Nebraska District Court, 3rd Judicial District, Lancaster County, served as hosts and participants in the program.
One of the groups – this one made up of four teachers and facilitators Moira Kennedy, Bataillon’s law clerk, and Kia Moore, an extern for the judge – argued their case in front of Bataillon. They dove into intense examination of the case and legal precedent followed by the crafting of arguments, which participants shared in presenting in court the next day. They had been assigned to the plaintiff side.
Even though none of these teachers were a lawyer, they cited case after case to bolster their arguments. Kennedy coached them on how the hearing would proceed and what they could expect from the other side and from the judge.
At the end, Bataillon complimented all the participants on the preparation and presentation.
“I hope it helps you understand the give and take that goes on in a legal review,” he said. “There were a lot of arguments on both sides and I was interested in hearing all of them. While this case has been decided, your arguments make me question whether I agree with the decision.”
He declined to tell the teachers “who won” but said that because of their arguments, he would have bound it over for a jury trial.
“I hope this foray into the justice world helped you,” he said. “And I’d like to know what we can do better next year. It was my pleasure to serve as your judge.”
Mission AccomplishedThe stated purpose of the program is “to help promote civic literacy and to help teachers better understand the courts and judicial process.”
“Many teachers do not have ready access to legal professionals,” Wojtowicz said. “These opportunities expose educators to important insights about the Constitution, which they can translate to their students.”
All of the judges and lawyers involved volunteered their time to help educate the teachers who participated. Wojtowicz said many of the participating judges and lawyers also helped fund the event, along with “generous local law firms.”
“More education for our social studies teachers will only benefit our broader citizenry,” he said. “I hope they take what they learned and incorporate the information into meaningful lessons for our youth.”
He said he hopes the program can continue, a hope echoed by UNO Political Science Department Chair Jody Neathery-Castro, Ph.D.
“We hope to expand it next year,” she said. “More donors, volunteers and attendees would be welcome.”