TORRINGTON – Gasps filled the courtroom as accused burglar “Mr. Cruz” was lead in, in shackles, on Monday for his arraignment.
The gallery watched with rapt attention as District Court Judge Patrick Korell read the charges and went through the litany of the defendant’s rights, as allowed by the law. They listened closely as, chains rattling, “Mr. Cruz” stood at the judge’s urging and issued his plea: “Not guilty.”
And another Liberty Day event was off and running for fifth graders on Goshen County School District No. 1.
Started in 1996 in Colorado, Liberty Day brings students together with local judicial systems to teach them about the law, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. For the past few years, the Goshen County Bar Association has hosted its Liberty Day events at the courthouse in Torrington.
“I know there’s been encouragement the local bar associations have received from the state bar association to put on these Liberty Day events,” said Nate Hibben, local attorney and commissioner of the county bar association. “To educate this next generation on civics, the law and the constitution.
“They got it,” he said. “I was very impressed. The kids were engaged, they had great questions. It was clear they spent a long time in the classroom learning about different aspects of the law.”
A highlight of the morning was the arrival of Goshen County Sheriff’s Deputy Herb Irons and his drug interdiction dog, Si. They put on a demonstration of Si’s ability to locate and identify illicit drugs, no matter how they’re concealed.
Judge Korell agreed. He, too, said he was impressed with the level of attention and participation the fifth graders from all around Goshen County showed during the event.
“This is a wonderful little event,” he said. “It’s quite eye-opening for the students to hear about all of the rights, to see someone accused, even if it’s just playing a part.”
For the defendant, “Mr. Cruz,” was in reality Cruz Flores, an advocate in the Goshen County Victim’s Assistance Office. He donned the chains and the orange-and-white striped jumpsuit of the accused to bring another dimension of reality to the event.
Presenting the ins and outs of the system in as real a setting as possible, short of an actual trial, lets the students get a better understanding of the concepts they learn about in the classroom.
“One of the hopes we have as attorneys and judges is to take the abstract ideas (of the legal system) and show the students the practical affect,” Korell said. “It gives them a great opportunity to see how those apply in a practical setting. They retain more by doing that.”
Hibben agreed: “The first year, it was just kind of a superficial discussion of the Constitution. It’s evolved into giving the kids a full, mock arraignment. That serves as a nice springboard for discussions on all kinds of topics, particularly criminal law.”