Students from Lakeland High School got a behind-the-scenes look at the Kootenai County Courthouse during a field trip Monday.
Nick Haynes, a social studies teacher at Lakeland, brought students from his law and order class — a semester-long elective open to grades 9-12 — to the courthouse as part of the Idaho State Bar’s “Love the Law!” program.
Haynes said he brings his class each semester so the students interested in professions related to law can be exposed to a courtroom setting.
“A lot of these kids haven’t been in a courtroom before, so this gives them a chance to see the courtroom in action,” Haynes said.
The 19 students began the morning by watching Judge Lansing Haynes (no relation) of the First Judicial District preside over a series of arraignments and sentencings.
Freshman Thomas Tiffany, 15, said that was his favorite part of the day but admitted he was surprised at the repetitiveness of Judge Haynes’ job.
“I’ve always been fascinated by law and how it works, so sitting in on the cases was definitely a highlight,” he said.
Sophomore Sydney Singer, 15, said that even though the procedures went more or less as she expected, the field trip was still interesting.
Singer said she has done some background research about what it would take to become a lawyer, but is keeping her options open.
“I’ve been looking into it a lot, so watching an arraignment was really interesting,” she said.
Singer and her classmates got an opportunity to learn about the life of a prosecuting attorney from County Prosecutor Barry McHugh, who dropped by to speak with students.
Judge Haynes, general practice lawyer Kinzo Mihara, and bailiff Derrick Gordon also described the duties of their jobs and answered questions.
During a 45-minute discussion, Judge Haynes walked the students through some mock trial situations for both a civil and criminal case.
He also gave them a window into his mindset when he offers a sentencing or a ruling and how he takes legal tools, such as pre-sentence investigation reports (PSIR), into account.
“I spend a lot of time with that PSIR report, and then I’ve kind of got in my mind what I think the sentence ought to be,” he said. “Then I listen to what the prosecution and the defense have to say, and sometimes I’ll learn new things about the case based on that and I adjust my sentencing from there.”
Mihara hailed the “Love the Law!” program as a way for young people to interact with a court in a positive setting.
“It’s an opportunity for exposure, to give them a fuel for that spark,” Mihara said. “It’s also about making sure kids have the opportunity to experience a courtroom in a positive environment. Usually when young people visit a courtroom it’s related to a negative experience, like a family custody dispute or a family member charged with criminal activity.”
Mihara added that the tour provides an honest if unspectacular look at how the court operates.
“Students get a chance to see the day-to-day operations of the courthouse, sort of the nuts and bolts of it all,” he said.
In addition to sitting in on courtroom proceedings, the students toured the judge’s chambers, jury deliberation room, and holding cells. They also saw how parking tickets are paid.
Without a doubt, though, students most enjoyed seeing the arraignments and sentencings.
“It was quite fascinating,” Tiffany said, “just everything about being in the courtroom.”