Students at Walker International Elementary School piled into the gallery of a courtroom inside the Henderson Municipal Court.
“All rise,” marshal Michael Gilbert said, bringing attendees to attention as Henderson Municipal Court Judge Douglas Hedger entered.
During the morning, legal concepts buzzed past students’ heads as they listened to defendants enter pleas and Hedger ask questions, make motions and preside over 17 cases, including DUI, domestic battery, speeding and possession of drug paraphernalia.
This was all part of the city of Henderson Legal Minds program, which allows fifth-grade students to get firsthand access to the judicial system.
The program takes place at the Henderson Justice Court, 243 S. Water St.
Hedger started the program in 2004 after he was elected.
“One of the things I campaigned on was to be a good role model to young children,” he said. “I wanted a way for them to get exposure to the justice system.”
Instead of going to schools and talking, Hedger thought it would be better to have the schools come to him to see the courtroom.
Along with celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the program also had its 5,000th student March 26.
Some of the children got to stand with the judge or the attorneys during the program.
After an hour of court cases, Hedger asked students about what they learned about the court.
“What are the three pleas people can enter?” Hedger asked.
“Nolo contendere,” one student answered — the Latin term for no contest — shocking the judge.
The other students provided the remaining answers: guilty and not guilty.
Students also learned the difference between a misdemeanor, which is the type of crime Hedger oversees, and felonies and what sentences entailed for both.
When talking about the speeding case, the students turned to one of the defendants — all in jest — shouting “shame” in unison while brushing their left index fingers over their right — the sign indicating shame.
During the program, students also got to hear from one of the court marshals.
Gilbert asked the students what they thought he did.
“Keep order,” one shouted.
“Protect us,” another student interjected.
“Those are all correct,” Gilbert answered the students.
As he explained how he does all those in the courtroom, he showed the students all the items in his possession — hanging from the 25-pound belt across his waist.
The gallery gasped with excitement as the surge of the stun gun from Gilbert’s belt pulsed when he demonstrated it.
“But what’s my most important tool?” Gilbert said. “It’s my brain. It helps me think of ways to solve situations.”
Students also got to see some of the holding cells.
“If we have time, they usually get to hear from some of the clerks, too,” Hedger said.
Didi Estep, a parent chaperon, said this was her second child to go through the program.
“My son went through it three years ago,” she said. “He remembers a person showed up to court drunk. The judge was not pleased.”
She said the program is good for children to experience.
“It’s good for them to see what happens if they mess up,” she said.
Before leaving, students also asked the judge about the court.
“What’s your hardest case you saw today?” one student said.
“Probably the speeding case,” Hedger answered. “Even though I know he is a good person, I still have to sentence him (to online traffic school and a fine). It’s not always fun. It’s not fun to say, ‘Go to jail.’ ”
For more information of the court, visit cityofhenderson.com/municipal_court.
Contact Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201. Follow on Twitter @mjlyle.