Students observe JP court to learn about the legal system

Posted Friday, Apr. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Michael Delgado, 11, figures he'd be a good lawyer when he grows up.

"I like to talk," said Michael, a fifth-grader "A lot."

Michael is president of the Rufino Mendoza Elementary School student council. The group took a field trip downtown Friday to learn about how the Tarrant County court system works.

The Honorary Jurors program was launched in January by Sergio L. De Leon, who was a Tarrant County constable for 11 years before being elected justice of the peace for Tarrant County Precinct 5 in November.

Once a week, students from Fort Worth schools and colleges tour De Leon's court to observe proceedings and visit the jury room and judge's chambers. Then they meet with Precinct 5 Constable Ruben Garcia and see a marked constable's cruiser.

De Leon said that in addition to the civics lesson, he hopes the program will inspire young people to consider law enforcement careers and participate in civic affairs, from parent-teacher-student organizations to voting and running for office when they're older.

Before the field trip, the students talked about how courts work and were reminded to wear appropriate clothes, school counselor Carmen Martinez said. They share what they've learned with classmates back at school, she said.

On Friday, students sat in the courtroom jury box and heard testimony regarding an apartment eviction.

De Leon ruled against the defendant, who was four months behind on his rent.

"Sometimes it's not an easy thing to do, but nonetheless when I'm on the bench, I can't be their friend. I have to follow the law," De Leon told the students.

Later, as students crowded into the small jury room, De Leon talked about how jurors deliberate, reviewed the three branches of government and discussed due process.

Michael said he learned a lot, although he already knew the basics of how small-claims court works from watching the TV show Judge Judy. He noticed that De Leon has a different style while on the bench.

"Judge Judy gets crazy cases and she brings her anger into it," Michael said. "He is more calm."

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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