- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

Area high school students argued a hypothetical case yesterday during the sixth annual Youth Law Fair that focused on irresponsible driving and the tragic consequences.

An enthusiastic group of 300 students who attend public and charter schools in the area got an opportunity to participate in mock trials by standing in for judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys during the daylong event that included law- and education-related exhibits.

The event was held inside the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse in Northwest and was co-sponsored by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

“There are two things we try to do during the Youth Law Fair, which is to expose students to the courts and to the people who work there — the judges and lawyers. By meeting them, it could start students thinking about careers in law,” said Curtis Etherly, an attorney and vice president of public affairs for the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co. “Secondly, we want to engage young people around issues that are very important in their lives.”

In past years, fair organizers selected themes such as teenage violence and the music and entertainment industries, and how the industries influence youths.

“This year, we selected teen driving because it is a significant issue in this region,” said Mr. Etherly, 36. “It’s important to give young people an opportunity to express their opinions. … They understand as operators of a car that they must be attentive. And I think they want to continue to have the ability to take on responsibility, and they want adults to know they can handle it.”

State lawmakers in Maryland’s House approved a bill Thursday barring inexperienced teen drivers from using cell phones while operating a vehicle and from carrying teen passengers.

Mr. Etherly moderated an hourlong discussion titled, “Risky Business: Reckless Driving.”

Inside Courtroom 102, students volunteered to serve as defense attorneys, prosecutors, jurors and witnesses in the hypothetical case of 17-year-old Andie ‘A.J.’ Johnson, a model student who had been charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Yasin Thompson, 16, cloaked in the black robe of a judge, presided over the case while Magistrate Judge Ronald Goodbread offered him guidance.

“I really enjoyed this experience,” said Yasin, who attends Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest. “I had a certain amount of authority, and I think I may want to investigate a career in law.”

Kia Sears, an attorney with the city’s Public Defender’s Office, prepped the defense team. Ms. Sears said she was impressed with her team and how quickly they understood the case.

“They had a limited time to prepare and they did very well,” she said. “I let them take the case and come up with the defense and their questions. One of the students [Noah Ward] wants to be an actor, while the other wants to be an attorney. However, I think they both realized the fun and excitement in the field.”

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