Terrett hosts All Rise Summer Youth Workshop

Published 11:09 am Friday, July 5, 2024

Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Toni Terrett says she has a passion to educate young people about the legal system and what goes on in a courtroom. In 2019, she held her first All Rise Summer Youth Workshop for kids ages 12 through 16. The one-day program is of her own design, and is intended to give kids a closer look at what happens in court and to inspire future leaders.

Monday, Terrett hosted 10 young people in the courtroom of the Warren County Courthouse. An all-star cast of judges, law enforcement and attorneys let the kids ask questions and get answers directly from the source.

Terrett, and Vicksburg Municipal Court Judge Angela Carpenter and Judge Penny Lawson opened the session by explaining what they do as judges. They each wore a black judge’s robe and asked the kids why that was important.

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“It’s symbolic of courtroom authority,” Carpenter explained.

When questioned, several of the kids said they were at the workshop because they aspire to become attorneys.

“We do a lot of reading,” Terrett said.

She recommended the kids read a lot to prepare for a career in law.

“Persevere,” Carpenter said. “Stay positive, even if your grades aren’t great.”

Lawson’s advice to the kids was to “choose your friends wisely.”

Members of Terrett’s staff, Melanie Sanders and LaFreda Lee, assisted with the session. Terrett said they also help her in designing the course.

After the judges spoke, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, Vicksburg Chief of Police Penny Jones and District Attorney Ricky Smith presented as a panel to tell the kids about their roles in the courtroom.

Each gave a description of their job duties.

One young person asked the trio how they “stay sane.” Smith responded that “knowing you’re getting justice for the victims” helps keep him going. Pace relayed the emotional toll a recent case took on him, but said “that is my job, to help the public.” Jones said, “I have gone home and cried. But this job is what I’m supposed to do.”

The kids were also interested in knowing how the panel felt about prosecuting people they know or are related to, and all three agreed they make the decision to do “what is right,” then move on.

One young lady asked what happens to evidence after a trial. Pace said there are very specific procedures that must be followed by law enforcement. In the case of a murder, evidence can never be destroyed. In the case of illicit drugs, some things, like cars and other assets, may be sold at an auction and the proceeds used only for law enforcement training and equipment. If there are actual drugs in evidence, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has an eco-friendly incinerator used to destroy narcotics.

Parting advice given by Jones was, “Get an education and connect with good mentors.” Smith advised, “Think about what you’re doing.” Pace said he passes along advice given by his own father: “You will always be judged by the company you keep. Life equals choices; decisions and consequences.”

The workshop also focused on civil law. Attorneys Kimberly Nailor and Tiffany Pendleton explained to the attendees that Justice Court is like a small claims court, because the amount of an award cannot exceed $3,500. The county court can hear cases with a value of up to $200,000. There is also a family court headed by Judge Vickie Barnes.

Pendleton discussed the process of becoming a lawyer, which involves completing a four-year degree from a university, then taking the Law School Admissions Test, three more years of law school and ultimately passing the bar exam. Only after that, is a person able to become a qualified lawyer, she explained.

The session concluded with a mock trial. Each child was given a script and played the role of defendant, judge, lawyers, clerk of court and other roles found in a real trial.

A surprise came at the end when Terrett asked the adult attendees to serve as a jury and determine guilt or innocence.

Terrett said she hopes to continue All Rise on an annual basis and is looking forward to next year’s workshop.

For more information about the All Rise Youth Workshop, visit judgeterrett.com.