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Morgan Teen Court ready for mock trials

June 07, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Two Teen Court mock trials will be held this month and regular hearings are set to begin in July, according to Charlie Willard, coordinator of Morgan County Teen Court.

At Thursday's Morgan County Commission meeting, Willard said the first four months of the program have gone well. He has been training 33 Warm Springs Middle School students and 20 from Berkeley Springs High School once a week.

At each trial, about 15 youths will be jury members, attorneys, a clerk and a bailiff, and "they all are learning there are consequences to the choices they make," he said.

Teen court is an alternative system of justice for students in grades seven to 12 who are primarily first-time offenders of nonviolent crimes. The decisions made through the system are legally binding, the offenders must volunteer and a criminal record will not be created for the offense. Examples are underage drinking or tobacco use, shoplifting and vandalism, Willard said.

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He invited the commissioners to attend the mock trial on June 25 at 7 p.m. in Magistrate Court. It is not open to the public, Willard said.

Willard said the students are getting educated about the judicial system and are very respectful. 

"That's why I'm for it," Commissioner Thomas R. Swaim said of students learning respect.

Willard said he will start recruitment the third week of August with a Teen Court picnic "to get the kids early before school starts."

He said more attorneys are interested in helping the students learn, and that Scott Lynch, a Berkeley Springs High School teacher, will sponsor the Teen Court Club.

Commission President Brenda J. Hutchinson said the commission will address the funding request when fiscal year 2009-10 budget decisions are made on June 26.

"Teen Court will ease the burden on the justice system," Bryner said.

Morgan County has the first teen court program in the Eastern Panhandle.

Willard said he asked the county commission for an additional $6,000 that will "get us through" another six months.

Sean Bryner, a Morgan County probation officer who introduced the Teen Court program to the commission, said the $4,800 grant that was applied for was not received, but other grants are being sought.

"We are trying to find ways rather than come to you every six months," he said.

Additional funding comes from a $5 fee added to traffic, misdemeanor and felony court costs, Bryner has said.

The commission endorsed the program in 2008 and gave $5,000 to get it started.

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