Kids learn ropes of court, law at Armstrong County Courthouse
The courtroom was packed, but this was not a high profile case. In fact, no trial was in session, but all the seats in the Armstrong County Courthouse were full.
For the second time, area youth had the opportunity to experience local law in action through the Courthouse Kids program.
More than 65 kids decided to give up one of their dwindling days of vacation to attend.
Developed by Zachary Patton, a fourth year University of Pittsburgh student and Kittanning High School graduate, Courthouse Kids was proposed while he was serving as an intern in the district attorney's office last summer. The initial program was well received, but Patton spent time in the year since to fine tune it.
This year, participants toured the old jail, and, although it is no longer used, Andrea Krizmanich, one of the kids in the program, admitted it still is scary. Her grandfather, Lawrence Goodman, admitted that he was “glad she dragged me along.”
After they were let out of jail, the group then learned how laws are made and how they are enforced.
The legislative process was addressed by Joe Pittman, chief of staff for state Sen. Don White and Rep. Jeff Pyle, who told his audience, “Government isn't a million miles away. We're right here for you.”
Pyle also assured attendees that their voices are heard, regardless of age, citing an example of legislation that awaits passage, all due to a question from a 14-year-old constituent regarding the legality of owning a hedgehog.
Enforcement of laws was then discussed by the DA office staff. DA Scott Andreassi emphasized personal accountability, saying that most crimes are committed by more than one person, who is usually more than happy to tell on their accomplices.
The final portion of the program dealt with judgement. J. Gary DeComo, district judge in Ford City, explained the differences between the magisterial, or ‘little court” and the county's “big court.” Judge James Panchik drove home the point that, “My job is to make sure that everyone who comes through those doors is treated fairly.”
When court was adjourned, the sentiments heard were “fun”, interesting” and “informative.”
Kate Muth of Dayton Elementary School offered a final vote of confidence, telling her mother she is coming back for the program next year.
Diane Orris Acerni is a correspondent for the Leader Times.