February 9, 2001
San Diego judges will launch impressive community initiatives with Spanish-speaking individuals, senior citizens, and school children on Feb. 15 in conjunction with the first American Bar Association mid-year conference ever to be held in San Diego.
The three outreach events are demonstration projects of the ABA's new Judicial Network, which will link up judges and attorneys with community groups in five pilot project states to answer questions about the justice system.
Spanish-speaking judges and attorneys have turned out in force to staff an elaborate legal workshop at the South County courthouse from noon to 2 p.m. for 125 Hispanic monolingual residents already signed up through community agencies.
Organized by Superior Court Judges Roy B. Cazares and Luis R. Vargas, the program will feature four panels of attorneys presenting educational information and then answering questions in courtrooms on criminal unlawful detainer, small claims, family law, and civil matters. Moderating the panels in addition to Judge Vargas will be Supervising Judge Jesus Rodriguez, Judge Rafael A. Arreola, and Judge Esteban Hernandez.
The oral presentations and the written materials will be entirely in Spanish. Ten ABA observers from the national office will wear headsets to follow the proceedings through simultaneous English translation.
ABA observers will also attend the other two events in preparation for the Feb. 16 workshop where presenters will train representatives from New York, Florida, Iowa, and Arizona on how to duplicate San Diego's programs in their states, the other pilot sites for the Judge's Network.
At 10:15 a.m. on Feb. 15, federal Magistrate Judge Leo S. Papas will show an interactive mock trial video to 35 fourth grade students at Tierrasanta Elementary School and answer questions with San Diego County Bar Association President Aaron Katz and immediate Past President Steph-anie Sontag. The students will be divided into two groups of jurors, each assisted in their deliberations by one of the attorneys.
Acted entirely by mid-dle-school students, the video portrays the trial of two students charged with possession of and intent to sell marijuana. Produced by the San Diego County Bar Association's Children at Risk Committee and the AJL Video company, the video comes in two versions with abbreviated and expanded commentary by Judge Papas on evidence, weighing testimony, and other trial issues. The video will later be used by other teams of judges and lawyers in classroom presentations on the legal system.
The third demonstration project at St. Paul's Villa will feature Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Mitchell and probate attorney Judith Copeland discussing elder legal programs such as conservatorship, caregiver problems, and medication issues with the resident seniors
Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell, chair of the local committee organizing the demonstration events, is also co-chair of California's Judicial Council's Community-Focused Court Planning Implementation Committee. That effort ties local court community involvement to the state judiciary's strategic planning and budget process.
"The Judicial Council developed its first strategic plan for trial courts in 1991 and has been very aggressive in helping local courts to assess community needs," Judge McConnell said. "As a result, California courts are far ahead of most states in community outreach, and we're excited to be sharing what we've learned."