Judges in the Classroom
As a Judge of the Contra Costa County Superior Court and recent past Chair of the Judicial Outreach Committee of the statewide California Judges Association (CJA), I have been involved with a program called “Judges in the Classroom.” I write to share a bit about this amazing program with CCCBA members and the larger East Bay legal community.
Judges in the Classroom is a statewide program that provides a platform for teachers to connect with judges in order to organize classroom presentations by judges to students about the judiciary, the work of the courts, and the law more generally.
The program was developed by the California Chief Justice’s Power of Democracy Steering Committee and has a strong track record in a number of counties such as San Diego.
The program was expanded during the pandemic era through the use of remote video technology and has been a good example of how to effectively transition judicial outreach programs to a remote platform and bring them to a broader audience. For example, the San Diego County Superior Court had, from Spring of 2020 into the Summer of 2020 alone, utilized this program to deliver presentations to 580+ students by more than a dozen judges in their county.
The Judicial Council, in the past couple of years since, has ramped up efforts to roll out the program to other counties throughout the state. Starting last year, I volunteered to serve as the local coordinator for the program in Contra Costa County. Last year, judges from our county completed more than a half dozen presentations and this school year (2023-2024), we are on track to well exceed that. Judges have given presentations to hundreds of students in our local schools over the past two years, including John Swett Elementary in Martinez, and Del Rey Elementary in Orinda. This year we had our first teacher match at a west county school as well, Michelle Obama School in Richmond.
Knowledge of our legal system and its functioning is at the heart of a strong and well-functioning democracy. The Judges in the Classroom program gives our youth an opportunity to understand and appreciate how and why the legal system, as an institution, functions to resolve conflict in a reasoned way. Consider the words of United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter who served on the High high Court court from just before World War II until the 1960s:
“Fragile as reason is and limited as law is as the institutionalized medium of reason, that’s all we have standing between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feeling.”
“Felix Frankfurter Reminisces” (Anchor Doubleday 1962).
Learning about and even experiencing the process—through mock trial proceedings and the like—brings home this message in a real-world, impactful way.
The Judges in the Classroom program is one small way that the Court and its judicial officers can help outreach to the community, especially our young people, and educate them on the vital institutions of our American democracy and their role in it as citizens.
For more information about Judges in the Classroom, please visit the program’s website at www.judgesintheclassroom.org. There you can find a further description of the program and an online sign- up form that teachers can fill out to be matched for presentations. Also, there are program curriculum materials accessible online through the program website. CCCBA members can help by sharing this program information with any teachers they may know.