Every other Monday night in Hillsborough’s historic courthouse, young, first-time offenders appear before the court. In an imposing setting presided over by a judge in black robes, it takes a moment to register that most of the people in this courtroom are under the age of eighteen. The clerk, the bailiff, attorneys, and jurors are all teen volunteers in Volunteers for Youth’s Teen Court program. Without the hard work and commitment of these teens and the adults who volunteer to assist them, Teen Court would be unable to function and a valuable service to young people experiencing their first brush with the law would be lost.
Approximately twenty-five high school youth volunteer in Teen Court and about ten of these are teen attorneys who are committed to the program long term. Many of these teens go beyond their roles as attorneys, serving as mentors to newer volunteers, recruiting their classmates to participate, and following up with their former clients to encourage them to complete the program. These young, dedicated volunteers are assisted by a group of UNC Law Students who serve as mentors and coaches to the teen attorneys. The law students, led by Joseph Strader, attend almost every session of Teen Court and help facilitate attorney trainings. Two local attorneys, Jeff Nieman and Mike Paduchowski, play the role of Teen Court judges and have a combined 8 years of Teen Court volunteering between them.
Kevin Joyce, a sophomore at Chapel Hill High, has been volunteering with Teen Court since he was in the eighth grade. In his first case as an attorney at the age of fourteen, he didn’t back down from rigorously interrogating senior lacrosse players, something he is still teasingly reminded of today. Why does Kevin continue to make the demanding commitment to Teen Court? “I volunteer for Teen Court because, aspiring to a law career, it is one of the greatest opportunities that can be given to someone like me. It’s also a really great way for me to help my peers in the community who deserve a second chance.”
Category: 30 Years