Victor Town Justice Toby Reh, Finger Lakes Legal Managing Partner Angelo Rose, and Chief Supervising Judge of the Seventh Judicial District Craig Doran took a few hours off from their day jobs to mentor young adult students from School of the Holy Childhood in Rochester
VICTOR — The atmosphere was light-hearted and energetic in Victor Town Court on Wednesday — a refreshing change from the usual parade of accused shoplifters, impaired drivers, larcenists, forgers, assaulters, drug possessors, brawlers and criminal mischief-makers who regularly pass through.
Victor Town Justice Thomas “Toby” Reh; Finger Lakes Legal Managing Partner Angelo “Butch” Rose; and Judge Craig Doran, chief supervising judge of the Seventh Judicial District, took a few hours off from their day jobs to mentor young adult students from School of the Holy Childhood in Rochester.
But the experience involved more than casual chit-chat. Students literally had their day in court on April 22 as they took part in a mock trial, orchestrated by Rose and the school's athletic director, Tim Baird.
Inside Victor Town Court on School Street in Victor, young adults with mild to severe developmental disabilities stepped into the roles of judge, jury, district attorney, defense counsel, court officers and court clerk. Rose and his co-defense attorney, Nicole Robertson, faced off against Reh and his co-prosecutors, Ramon Becker and Ben Hawk, before Judge Doran and a co-judge, Randi Pru.
“It was wonderful,” said Doran, following the mock trial. “Anytime we can get out of our usual environment and bring the court to citizens of our community and allow them to experience the justice system first-hand, everybody’s a winner. I’m sure I enjoyed this the most out of everybody in this room.”
Students took the trial very seriously, as several school staff members played the roles of victim and defendant. In Wednesday’s case, staffer Charise Witt was accused of scratching and smashing tomatoes on the car of her ex-boyfriend, played by Taylor Smith, in a Wegmans parking lot. Testimony revealed some surprises and a good share of laughs as students, staffers and their professional counterparts improvised dialogue.
According to Baird, the mock trial program is highly anticipated by students. It’s part of the extensive educational programming offered at Holy Childhood to prepare children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for independence and integration in the community.
“They love this,” Baird said of his students. “They get so excited about being able to come and play the roles.”
This is the third round of the trial program, which began when Reh and Rose were law partners in Victor and Town Justice Ed “Marty” Lyng Jr. was the sitting judge in Victor.
“Tim approached me and said they had an interest in doing a mock trial,” said Rose. “We did our first one about five years ago before Judge Lyng. Toby, who’s now the presiding judge here in Victor, presided at the last one a couple of years ago. And then Judge Doran had heard about it and approached me about two or three months ago and asked if he could be a part of it.”
For Rose, the experience is “absolutely wonderful.”
“A lot of these students I’ve known for over 20 years,” said Rose. “I was a coach for Special Olympics for a long period of time, so I know them personally. But I’ve watched Judge Doran and Judge Reh really interact with them on a level that, honestly, you interact in a regular, normal courtroom on a normal day. So really it’s quite impressive.”
Ramon Becker, a key member of defense counsel, said although he was nervous at first, he loved his role.
“It was a very cool thing,” said Becker. “I’ve never been in a courtroom before, so this was very exciting. And talking to the judge was very neat. I really enjoyed it.”
Each year the mock trial program takes place, there seems to be a greater understanding of what goes on with the criminal justice system, and the justice system in general, said Rose.
“It seems the students and the adults in the program at Holy Childhood have a greater understanding, they come back each year, they ask questions, they come dressed for court, they wear ties and special clothing, and they want to partake in what we’re doing as lawyers, as judges and as court personnel.”
According to Baird, School of the Holy Childhood is “a fantastic place where the individuals in the adult program get to learn how to do different jobs and develop skills so they can go out into the community and get jobs.”
The trial program also affords students — if they’re ever in a situation where they have to go to a court for any number of reasons — to be comfortable in that environment, he said.
“It’s very clear that the folks who joined us really got a lot out of it,” said Doran. “They got to experience the system first-hand, and they got to play the roles of being in the system. These folks are citizens just like everyone else and it’s important that they understand the process. So I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”
Baird said he was extremely proud of all the students who were able to play the roles out, especially the one who testified on the witness stand — Tom Baumburger.
“It really is gratifying to see folks that are this interested in the system,” said Doran. “They so enjoy these roles, and they so appreciate the opportunity to be part of it. It’s sort of a battery charger for us to feel how important it is. We have the privilege of doing these jobs, and to see folks enjoy it so much and take it so seriously — it really is a great, great opportunity for all of us together. I wish I could do this full-time.”