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Teen court offers justice, esprit de corps for students

Students discover new ways to help their peers - and themselves
by: Darryl Swan IN SESSION — The 2010-2011 Teen Court participants, from left to right: Jessica Lewis (Senior, St. Helens), Garrett Couch (Junior, Scappoose), Sasha Sanderson (Senior, St. Helens), Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove, Quartney Alden (St. Helens), Ron Binam (Freshman, St. Helens), Adriana Martinez (Junior, Scappoose), Sara Jennings (Freshman, Scappoose), Diana Shera Taylor (muncipal court judge for the cities of Scappoose and St. Helens), Kyle Sallee (Junior, Scappoose) and Teen Court Coordinator Jean Lewis.

In its second year, Teen Court, a justice alternative available to students in the Scappoose and St. Helens school districts, has helped unclog Columbia County Circuit Court and has given some offenders a new life perspective.

There are conditions, however.

To start, the offenders have to admit their guilt. And, in some cases, they need to rely on mom and dad to help them finish the Teen Court-imposed penalties.

The offender must also accept that it will be his or her peers who will ultimately set the conditions for justice to be served; nearly every position in the courtroom - from attorneys to bailiffs to judges - is held by a student. And their decisions stick.

In one such instance, Jean Lewis, the Teen Court coordinator, said she had a student who was required take a follow-up class fail to do so because the mom said she didn't want to pay the $25 it would have cost.

Lewis said she tried to explain that the class was less expensive if the parent and child both attend, a difference of $25 versus the $100 if the student attended alone, but to no avail.

'The sad part is they're not helping their child,' Lewis said. Also, by not attending, the Teen Court sanctions are undone and the student is sent back to the mercies of juvenile court.

Though Teen Court offers a second chance to offenders, it also provides aspiring students hands-on experience in law.

This year, 17 students served as Teen Court participants.

'These kids have gone beyond the scope of their training,' said Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove. 'They're truly making a difference and helping these kids.'

Kyle Sallee, a Scappoose junior, said participating as both a prosecuting and a defense attorney allowed him to explore new ways of helping his peers.

'I think you get to be everybody's friend, but in a different way,' said Sallee, who aspires one day to be a lobbyist. 'You're there to teach a lesson, to help them learn that lesson.'

Lewis said she was proud of the way the students worked especially hard to help their peers who were in trouble, many for offenses ranging from substance use to theft.

'The length they took to talk with the kid and the parents, to help their child to keep their kids out of trouble, it just felt great,' she said.