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August 1, 2019 at 3:06 pm

High School Students Explore Access to Justice in Appalachia, Legal Profession During CLJC Summer Institute

SLTI Students with Judge George McCarthy in the Athens County Courthouse

Twenty high school students, primarily from Appalachian Ohio, were selected from among a pool of almost eighty applicants to attend the Center for Law, Justice & Culture‘s 2019 Summer Law & Trial Institute. The program is designed to enhance the students’ understanding of the law and American legal system, explore access to justice issues, especially in Appalachia, and give them exposure to the legal profession and a collegiate experience.  To apply, students must have a 3.0 GPA, must write an essay expressing their interest in law and justice, and must submit a letter of recommendation.

OHIO alumnus and attorney Larry Hayman, who serves as CLJC Pre-Law Advisor, launched the program at Ohio University in 2016 and has served as the Program Director since. Hayman leads the program with the support of more than forty alumni and friends in law related fields who serve as guest speakers.  Students engage in rigorous academic coursework, exploring topics like the access to justice gap, legal and social inequality, civil liberties, and civil rights.   The program also provides experiential learning opportunities that focus on textual analysis, case briefings, and negotiations.  Finally, students also learn through field trips and site visits.

Field trip to Columbus, visiting Supreme Court of Ohio, Columbus City Attorney’s Office, ACLU of Ohio, and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus/Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

Students tour the Law Library at the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center

On the third day of the program, after gaining critical background knowledge, students visited the Supreme Court of Ohio where they were able to take a tour and learn about the history of the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center.  The students also observed an oral argument before the Court. After the oral arguments, the students had an opportunity to discuss the case with members of the Chief Justice’s law clerks, who joined them for lunch in the building’s Native American lobby.  During their lunch, they were greeted by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, where she shared her experiences of decades of work in the legal system. She also encouraged the students to not set a path, but to instead follow wherever their journey takes them. This was many of the students favorite part of the trip. “The Supreme Court visit was really exciting. Personally, receiving advice from Chief Justice O’Connor was something that was very inspirational for me,” says Maureen Baker, a junior at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio.  A video of the Supreme Court visit can be found here.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor addresses the students in the Native American Lobby

After visiting the Supreme Court of Ohio, the students’ next stop was the Columbus City Attorney’s office, where they met with Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Deputy Chief Prosecutor, Joseph Gibson ‘05.  Klein explained the primary roles of the City Attorney’s office, with emphasis on his plans to make the criminal justice system more equitable and fair in order to protect the most vulnerable. Additionally, Gibson shared his experiences in the legal field, information about his current role, and his most interesting cases.

The students then visited the ACLU of Ohio’s Columbus Office.  In the ACLU’s Adrienne Gavula Community Room, they met with Executive Director J. Benjamin Guess and the ACLU Leadership Team. Here, they learned more about the legal, lobbying, and educational work that the ACLU coordinates. The visit to this organization made many participants passionate about Civil Rights Law. Students were also surprised to hear that the ACLU has sued every Presidential Administration since they were established in the early 1920s!

SLTI visits the ACLU of Ohio

Students concluded their day in Columbus with a visit to the Legal Aid Society of Columbus/Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. They met with Attorneys Dianna Parker, Melissa Will and Patricia Varga Vegas. There, they learned about the “access to justice gap,” the work conducted by legal aid attorneys, and also participated in an interactive exercise that illustrated for them first-hand how difficult it is for low income individuals to navigate the legal system without an attorney.

Learning from OHIO Alumni, Students, Faculty, Staff, and Friends

Throughout the program, the Summer Law & Trial Institute met with OHIO alumni employed in a myriad of law-related careers, highlighting possible career choices available to those with legal training.  “The program would not be possible without the generous contribution of time and effort by Ohio University alumni, faculty, staff, and friends,” said Hayman.  “Year after year, they graciously accept my invitations to participate.  Their commitment to the program remarkable.”  Some OHIO alumni that participated in the institute were:

  • Judge Sean Gallagher, who lectured the students on appellate procedures. Judge Gallagher serves on the Ohio Court of Appeals in the Eighth Appellate District. He graduated from OHIO with his B.A. in Political Science before heading to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to obtain his J.D.
  • Zachary Saunders, Esq. taught the students rules of evidence and objections, preparing them for their mock trial. Saunders earned a B.A. in Political Science from the College of Arts & Sciences and his J.D. from Western Michigan University Cooley Law.
  • Sandra Anderson, Esq. trained the students in the art of direct examination and cross examination. Anderson graduated summa cum laude from OHIO in 1973 before earning her J.D. at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Students found her lecture to be very helpful. SLTI student Maureen Baker said, “I learned so much about direct and cross examination from Attorney Anderson. I had no idea that there was a certain way to word the questions when questioning a witness. It made me realize a lot more is put into a trial than what we see on television.”
  • Jessica Branner, Esq. lectured the students about criminal appeals. Branner is a City Prosecutor in Athens and graduated from OHIO in 2010.

    Equality Ohio Attorney Andy Dugan explains civil rights litigation

  • Amy E. Flowers, Esq. taught the students about trial decorum. Flowers is a bailiff for Judge Kimberly Cocroft of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. She obtained both her bachelor’s and master’s degree at OHIO before receiving her Juris Doctor from Capital University.
  • Robert Foehl, Esq. served on a panel to discuss the topic of “What can I do with a law degree?” After having a very successful career in the legal field, Foehl is now a Executive-in-Residence for Business Law and Ethics at OHIO’s College of Business. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from OHIO then received his Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

    Ohio Assistant Public Defender Stephanie Russell-Ramos

  • Tracy Meek, Esq. gave students an introduction to criminal trials. Meek graduated from Ohio University in 2003 and is now the Chief City Prosecutor in Athens.
  • Dr, Brenda Noftz, Esq. also served on the “What can I do with a law degree?” panel discussion. She serves as the Director of Administrative Services at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She obtained both her bachelor’s degree in English Education and PhD. in Higher Education Administration from OHIO and received her Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
  • Alyssa Parrott, Esq. presented to the students about the juvenile criminal justice system. Parrott graduated from OHIO with a bachelor’s degree in political science and obtained her Juris Doctor from Capital University Law School with a Children and Family Law concentration.
  • Elizabeth Pepper, Esq. educated the students on plea bargaining and had them engage in an interactive exercise that involved a prosecution and defense side, a crime, and working together to come to an agreement on the defendant’s sentence/charge. Pepper graduated with her bachelor’s degree in History from OHIO before attending The University of Toledo College of Law. Pepper currently works for the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office where she is Chief of the criminal division and the lead prosecutor for sexual assault and white-collar crime cases.  This is her fourth year participating in the program, teaming up with Attorney Karyn Justice, who practices criminal defense in Portsmouth, Ohio. to teach the plea bargaining session.

    Attorney Karyn Justice advises the criminal defense lawyers on plea negotiations

  • Peggy Smith Replogle, Esq. also gave students an introduction to criminal trials. She graduated with her bachelor’s in Political Science from OHIO and then pursued her Juris Doctor from Capital University Law School. She currently has her own law practice focusing on Criminal Defense and Family Law.
  • Shawn Stover educated the students on the Athens County Reentry Task Force. Stover graduated from OHIO with two bachelor’s degrees in Social Work and Psychology. He currently serves as the chairperson for the Athens County Reentry Task Force in which he works to present ideas and programs to help people with a felony reintegrate into society.
  • Zachary Tidaback, Esq. taught students about the method of case briefing. Clay Boeninger, a sophomore at Athens County High School, stated “I enjoyed the lecture about case briefing because I found it really great that there is an easier method for finding the facts, issues, and ruling in a certain case.” Tidaback graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and attended New England Law in Boston, MA where he obtained his Juris Doctor.
  • Judge Clarke Vandervort also served on the “What Can I Do With A Law Degree?” panel discussion where he discussed his successful career in the legal field. Before retiring, Judge Vandervort was aUnited States Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia.
  • Judge Patrick Lang ‘99, hosted the students in his courtroom.  There, he discussed his path to becoming a judge and the types of cases he presides over.  He also explained the jurisdiction of the Common Pleas Court and the layout of the courtroom.

Judge Patrick Lang meets students in his courtroom

Further contributions were made by Miranda West, Legal Policy and Compliance Coordinator at Ohio University who explained the role of Legal Support Professionals; Alexa Jesser, Nick Eaton, and Katie Bassala who are all spending their summers as Ohio Innocence Project Fellows at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, working to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, and James Stanley, Meigs County Prosecutor, who taught the students how to properly use Exhibits in trials as well as how to deliver an effective Closing Argument.

Tara Griffitts, Manager of Communications and Academic Relations, spoke to the students about Ohio University Undergraduate Admissions.  As most of the students were high school seniors, she was instrumental is answering questions about their upcoming applications.

Judge Clarke Vandervort is joined by Ohio University Office of Legal Affairs Attorney Barbara Nalazek, Dr. Brenda Noftz, and Robert Foehl on a panel about career opportunities for those with JDs

Panel Discussions On Educational and Career Options

As part of the program, students were also introduced to a number of alumni and current students through a series of panel discussions.  The first panel, “What Can I Do With A Law Degree?,” featured Judge Clarke Vandervort, Ohio University Office of Legal Affairs Deputy General Counsel Barbara Nalazek, Dr. Brenda Noftz, Director, Administrative Services & Interim Director, Human Resources at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Robert Foehl, Executive in Residence for Business Law and Ethics at the Ohio University College of Business.  The panelists explained what lead them to law school and each outlined their very different paths in legal practice, from large corporate law firms, criminal defense work, teaching, law enforcement, and more.

Current pre-law students Jada Sparks and Kristin Tate, served on a panel with recent alumni Gabrielle Tharp ‘19, who starts the Law, Justice and Culture master’s program this fall, Alyssa Alcorn ’16 who begins her JD program at Michigan State University College of Law this fall, Caitlyn McDaniel ‘15 who currently attends American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., and Angela Lavington who is currently obtaining her master’s in both Sociology and Law, Justice and Culture at OHIO.  The panel covered topics like majors of study, opportunities for involvement, and advice for success in college, graduate school, and law school.

Finally, Cybele Smith, Director of the Public Service and Public Interest Programs at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and a JD herself, explained what public interest and government legal careers are and talked to the students about things that they can do at the high school and college level to prepare for such a career.

Exploring College Majors and Honors Opportunities

In addition to professional development, students learned about different programs of study available to students in the College of Arts & Sciences.  OHIO faculty members from several departments presented to the students about different majors offered to those interested in pre-law. Dr. Matthew Stallard discussed OHIO’s English Pre-Law major, while Dr. Kevin Uhalde covered OHIO’s History Department and Dr. Jennifer Fredette represented Political Science. In addition, Dr. Amanda Cox represented the Sociology department, where she provided students with a mock college lecture about the death penalty.

Helen Fegadu, a senior at Olentangy Orange High School, explains “the different departments presenting to us was very helpful. It helped me decide what I would want to major in and what I would not want to major in. After hearing Dr. Uhalde’s lecture, it made me realize I would love to major in History Pre-Law before heading to law school.”

Clay Boeninger from Athens High School concurs, stating that SLTI “inspired me to take more social science classes in high school, like sociology.”

The students also received a visit from Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, who discussed the benefits of a liberal arts education and what sets Ohio University apart from other institutions. Additionally, Dr. Margaux Cowden ’01, Director of the Cutler Scholars Program and Honors Program, provided information about the Honors Tutorial College and other honors program.  Finally, students learned from Dr. Christopher Lewis, Director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, about the resources and guidance his office provides in support of students applying for world renowned selective scholarships and fellowships.  Students also had opportunities to take a campus tour where they enjoyed seeing all of the historical buildings, the library, and shopping at the College Bookstore.

Mock Trial Puts Students’ Skills to the Test

Students participate in the capstone Mock Trial before Judge McCarthy

Every year, the Summer Law & Trial Institute culminates in a mock trial in which the students take on the roles of prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, and witnesses. The last week is dedicated to preparing the students for their roles, and on the last day of the program, they present their case before Judge George P. McCarthy and members of the Athens County Bar Association at the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.

This is a challenging, yet very exciting chance for students to put the information they acquired in the last twelve days to the test in a real courtroom.

The students were divided into four teams. Two defense teams and two prosecution teams. Each team had two attorneys and three witnesses. The attorneys were in charge of preparing opening statements, direct and cross examinations, closing arguments, and learning to argue objections. The witnesses were to prepare an interesting character for their witness and to memorize their affidavit so that they were prepared for any questions they may be asked while testifying.

Maureen Baker, a two-time state qualifier for her speech and debate team at Cardinal Mooney High School, said that, “The mock trial was very different for me than speech and debate. This is because no matter how far you get into a round or into a tournament you are never presenting in a courtroom to a judge and a jury. So, the mock trial was kind of nerve-wracking for me, but it was also very exciting because I enjoy public speaking and I was very excited for my defense attorney role. I learned so much.”

First-Hand OHIO Experience

During SLTI, students get a first-hand experience of being a student at Ohio University and living in Athens. They resided in Luchs Hall, one of the university’s residence halls on South Green.  They ate their meals in Nelson Dining Hall, and they had classes in both Gordy Hall and Bentley Hall.  Their campus tour acquainted them with other buildings and the overall campus.  Students also spent some time uptown Athens, where they were able to purchase some OHIO gear at the College Bookstore, dine at some of the local restaurants, and enjoy some sweet treats from Whit’s Frozen Custard.

Additionally, the students participated in a community service project at Passion Works Studio, attended a Copperheads baseball game, and went bowling at Rollerbowl Lanes.

“I really liked the community service project. I think that it’s really good to know that there are some outlets in the community for those with special needs, or even those experiencing stress or just want to show their creativity.” Baker explains.

Clay Boeninger explains that even though he is from Athens, this experience allowed him to explore Ohio University in a whole new way and furthered his interests in attending the university. “I plan on going to OU and majoring in possibly English, History, or Political Science for pre-law. All of those majors seemed very interesting to me”, Boeninger states. He also mentions “There were many highlights of SLTI for me. But I really enjoyed the mock trial and hanging out in the dorms with all of the friends I have made through this program.”

Both Helen Fegadu and Maureen Baker, participants of SLTI explain that this program clarified for them their desire to pursue a law related major and career. Baker explains, “This program made me realize that I definitely do want to be an attorney. I am still deciding whether I want to be a prosecutor or defense attorney, but it has definitely given me clarity on the many career options that are available for me in the legal field.” Fegadu agrees. She states, “This program has really helped me clarify what I want to do in the future. This coming year, I plan to shadow a few different lawyers and join the debate team. I know for a fact I want to go into law in the future.”

Undergraduate Mentorship 

Larry Hayman, Judge George McCarthy, Jada Sparks, and Kristin Tate after the capstone mock trial

In addition to Hayman, the program is run by two undergraduate Program Assistants who serve as mentors to the high school students, living in the residence hall with them and attending the same lectures.  This year, Ohio University seniors Kristin Tate and Jada Sparks served as the Institute’s program assistants.  Both students are senior Political Science Pre-Law and Sociology-Criminology majors and both are earning certificates in Law, Justice & Culture.  Similarly, both of them grew up in Appalachia.  Tate, who served as an SLTI Program Assistant in 2018, applied for the position again because she knew she would meet influential people in the legal field.  “It was wonderful gaining insight into the legal profession, exploring different avenues I can pursue after law school.  I especially loved learning about the work of the ACLU, Equality Ohio, and the Ohio Innocence Project.”  Sparks applied because she, “loves being a Pre-Law student at Ohio University and wanted to share my experiences with the high school students. I enjoy what I study, and wanted to give the SLTI students needed advice to help make their transition from high school to college a little bit easier.”  Like Tate, Sparks enjoyed learning from all of the speakers.  “It was so rewarding meeting all of the successful attorneys, judges, and individuals working in the legal field.  One of the greatest experiences for me was meeting Judge Vandervort.  I could not believe that a United States Magistrate Judge was so interested in learning about my interest in law and future plans.  He was so helpful with his advice!”

Both students are studying for the LSAT, which they plan on taking in September, and applying for law school for the start of the ’20-’21 school year.  They are both members of the Ohio University Mock Trial Team, Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law fraternity, and are both leaders of student organizations on campus.

“I cannot underscore enough how crucial the role of the Program Assistant is to the program,” Hayman said.  “Jada and Kristin were both excellent fits for the position, having served in mentorship roles in the past, having grown up in the region, and having immersed themselves in the Law, Justice & Culture community while at Ohio University.  The high marks they received from the SLTI students confirms their effectiveness as leaders, mentors, and teachers.”

Funding and Other Support

The program is fully supported through grants and donations.  This year, Judge Clarke Vandervort significant financial contributions made the program possible. Additionally, over the last four years, the Ohio State Bar Foundation has generally supported the program through its grant program.  The views expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect the views of its contributors.

Additionally, SLTI is supported in-kind by Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences, Athens County Court of Common Pleas, Athens County Municipal Court, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Columbus City Attorney’s Office, The Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, The Supreme Court of Ohio, Ohio State Bar Foundation, Athens County Prosecutor’s Office, Athens City Attorney’s Office, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, Athens County Prison Reentry Program, Ohio University Office of Legal Affairs, Equality Ohio, Ohio University Mock Trial Team, Ohio University Honors Tutorial College, Ohio University Undergraduate Admissions, Ohio University Office of the President, Meigs County Prosecutor’s Office, Mollica, Gall, Sloan & Sillery, Court of Appeals of Ohio-Eighth Appellate District, The Law Firm of Dagger, Johnston, Miller Ogivile & Hampson, Passionworks, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Law Office of Margaret A. Smith Replogle, Ohio University College of Business, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, The Honorable Clarke Vandervort, Sandra J. Anderson, Esq., The Law Office of Karyn Justice, LLC, Ohio University Cutler Scholars Program, The Ohio Innocence Project, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and many Ohio University students.

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