Mock trial allows students firsthand look at court system

Judge Natalie Tyrrell exposes kids to her North Las Vegas courtroom and its holding cells in the hope they never see them again — that is, unless they are lawyers, judges or courthouse staff members.

“By showing you this side of the criminal justice system,” Tyrrell said to a courtroom full of students, “I hope you see this is the side you want to be on. You do not want to be a defendant in a criminal case.”

For the 12th year in a row, Tyrrell welcomed fifth-graders from Squires Elementary School, 1312 E. Tonopah Ave., to the North Las Vegas Justice Court, 2428 N. Martin Luther King Blvd., March 20 as part of the Kids in the Court program. Tyrrell and bailiff Ron Wright also visited the school and taught students about the American justice system and spoke about their career paths.

“Of course, they love Ron because of all the toys and things he has on his belt,” Tyrrell said. “Ron gets a ton of questions from them.”

When the students visit the courthouse, they are introduced to several court staffers, including clerks, the office manager, court administrator and a court interpreter. Each staff member talked about their education and how they came into their career.

The message was consistent among all of them — stay in school.

They also stressed the advantage of speaking fluent English and Spanish. Nearly every student in the courtroom was bilingual as evidenced by a show of hands when asked by the court interpreter.

Clark County District Attorney Craig Hendricks and defense attorney Ivette Maningo also preached education.

“The higher your degree, the more choices you have in life,” Maningo said. “… The sky’s the limit.”

Hendricks asked students how many of them think they are very smart. Two students raised their hands.

“How about everyone raise their hands?” Hendricks said.

He asked again, and they complied. Hendricks said they were all smarter than him because, for starters, they speak two languages.

“You can become anything you want to be,” he said.

After students were introduced to everyone, Tyrrell presided over a mock trial between two students in the case of the State of Nevada v. Ricardo Espinoza.

Ricardo, 10, was charged with malicious destruction of property for allegedly spray-painting a classmate’s bike at a nearby park after school. Hendricks represented 10-year-old Jazmin Rivera, and Maningo defended Ricardo. After 30 minutes of questioning witnesses, including Detective Very Harry Potter — played by bailiff Alberto Coman — who investigated the case, a jury of Ricardo’s peers found him not guilty.

After the trial, Tyrrell and her bailiffs gave tours of the courthouse, including Tyrrell’s chambers and the holding cells. Many students covered their noses while touring the cells.

“I’m hoping maybe somebody thinks, ‘I want to be a lawyer, (or) I want to be a judge,’ ” Tyrrell said.

Tyrrell said she also hopes this program will help improve Clark County’s high school graduation rate, even if just a little.

Squires principal Marcie McDonald said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to see their government work firsthand.”

“It’s so important for somebody other than teachers and parents teaching them,” she said.

Tyrrell came up with the idea for the program 12 years ago and approached Squires’ principal at the time about it. Tyrrell said she has invited several other elementary schools to participate, but none has accepted. Transportation is a restriction for some schools, she said. McDonald said she hopes to be able to continue sending her students for years to come as long as funding for transportation is available. Funding for this year’s trip was provided by Capital One.

“(Tyrrell) is a pretty wonderful lady to be doing it,” McDonald said. “I don’t know if all of our elected public officials are quite as generous.”

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 702-224-5524.

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