The word “docent” derives from the Latin word docere, meaning “to teach.” For over 25 years, court tour docents have been a vital link in teaching Contra Costa County students, parents and teachers about the history and workings of the Contra Costa County Superior Court and the American legal system. This school year alone over 2,000 students (and hundreds of their parents) from all around Contra Costa County will visit the courthouse.
From October through May, nearly every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, one or two docents from the Court Tours Program meet on the courthouse steps to conduct a guided tour for 5th graders.
Initially, the students tour the Courthouse and learn about the detention facility. The second hour is spent in a courtroom observing a “real” court proceeding in process.
In the final portion of the tour, students act as key players in a scripted mock trial, including judge, bailiff, district attorney, witnesses, defense attorney, as well as jurors voting on the verdict.
This is what two docents who are CCCBA members have to say about the program:
“I resent the unfair attacks against our judicial system we all hear from time to time, and I like the idea of having (at least as to the children on ‘my’ tours) the opportunity early in their lives to provide a more positive perspective on what the courts do for our society.”
“I also enjoy the students’ eager enthusiasm at seeing how the security scanners work and what bailiffs keep in those cool black leather belts.”
– Commissioner Don Green (ret)
“I always wanted to be a docent at the “Magic Kingdom.” No, not Disneyland, rather the Court Complex. As a judge, I envied the many tour groups that would come through my court. Now, I can be part of that process. I have an opportunity to meet the future leaders of Contra Costa (mostly 5th graders) and explain our courts from their historical perspective. I can show them why it’s important for a free people to feel safe in their courthouses (Security Area). We also visit the Detention Facility. That’s usually a sobering part of the tour. “Miranda Rights” take on new meaning when you are in a locked facility, even a modern one.
By the time we view a real trial, I believe my charges begin to realize that the stuff they see on TV is totally fiction. Real people discussing their experiences in a court room will have that effect.The tour is ended by a mock trial in which all of the students play roles. The intensity of their efforts convinces me that there will be very capable, enthusiastic citizens to maintain the Magic Kingdom when their time comes.
Giving our citizens a chance to experience and embrace their system is not only rewarding in a personal sense, but fulfills my social commitment to make sure the responsibility for caring for the system is passed on.”
– Judge Richard Flier (ret)
We are looking for enthusiastic ambassadors for the judicial branch of government, helping young visitors and their parents and teachers understand how the Contra Costa County courts function. The time commitment is usually six tours during the academic school year (tours run from 10:00 am until approximately 1:00 pm), although some docents choose a greater commitment while others choose less.
We have found that retired judicial officers, lawyers and court staff make some of the best docents. The ‘inside scoop’ they can give the students, their knowledge of the third branch of government and what really goes on in the courthouse add so much to the students’ experience. I invite you to become a part of this decades-long tradition in our county, helping to inform the future leaders of our community about our legal system and their important role in it.
Theresa Hurley would like to take this opportunity to thank the docents who are also members of the CCCBA:
• Judge Richard Flier (ret.)
• Commissioner Don Green (ret.)
• Karen Fenchel
• Kevin Lally
• Robin Thornton