By Jerrilyn Malana
California Lawyers Association hosted 90 fifth-grade students and their teachers from Harborside Elementary School at a Civic Education Luncheon during CLA’s Annual Meeting in San Diego on September 22, 2023. The students were joined by over 40 judges and attorneys, who generously volunteered their time to engage with them in a fun and interactive civics program called “No Animals Allowed.”
During the luncheon, the fifth graders learned about the three branches of the government, the role of the judicial branch, and how to interpret the law fairly and equally. They also learned about the role of judges and attorneys and their career paths in the legal profession. The students practiced critical thinking skills by applying a fictional law: No animals are allowed for safety reasons.
CLA’s Civic Engagement and Outreach (CEO) Committee organized the event, as it works on various programs to promote civic learning throughout the year. Civic learning is important as it prepares students to be effective citizens and engaged members of their communities. It helps students understand how our government works, how to participate in the democratic process, and how to make informed decisions. Civic learning also promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and advocacy, as well as responsible action to make positive change. Notably, this was the third year the CEO Committee has organized this special event.
The students traveled on buses to downtown San Diego and the Hilton Bayfront Hotel, CLA’s Annual Meeting venue. Upon arrival, the students were warmly greeted by two Court Dogs, “Poppy” and “Tesora,” and their handlers, who volunteer with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The Court Dogs are specially trained therapy dogs who help some of the most vulnerable crime victims and witnesses, including children, as they provide comfort and emotional support during meetings, interviews, and court testimony. Poppy and Tesora led a long parade of excited students through the hotel to the ballroom, which was a fun sight to see.
The students enjoyed lunch with judges and attorneys while engaging in ice-breaker activities, including making colorful name badges. They also reviewed a comic book, “What Do Lawyers and Judges Do?”, produced by California Lawyers Foundation.
Justice Judith McConnell engaged the students in an interactive discussion regarding the three branches of government. She focused on the judicial branch and talked about how judges make decisions. Justice McConnell is the Administrative Presiding Justice for the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division One. She also serves as Chair of the Power of Democracy Steering Committee, which works to implement Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero’s civic education initiatives.
Justice Jose Castillo discussed his career path with the students. He shared his journey to becoming an attorney, appointed as a San Diego County Superior Court Judge and Associate Justice on the Court of Appeal. Most of the students were bilingual and spoke Spanish, and they were delighted when Justice Castillo talked to them in Spanish during a portion of his presentation on how to become an attorney and judge.
During the core portion of the luncheon, the students worked at their individual tables with the judges and attorneys on the “No Animals Allowed” exercise. The ballroom was filled with vibrant energy as the students used critical thinking skills to determine how the “law” applied to animals who were at the school for various reasons. The program prompted lively banter and laughter throughout.
As the program wrapped up, there were many smiles on the students’ faces as they proudly wore “Future Lawyer” stickers from CLA. Some students even asked the judges and attorneys for their autographs, which brought even bigger smiles. For most students, this was the first time they met a judge or an attorney. The positive interaction planted seeds in the students and inspired them to pursue a career in the legal profession.
CLA and its CEO Committee are grateful for the generous support of the California Lawyers Foundation, CLA’s Litigation Section, and the many other sponsors and volunteers who made the Civic Education Luncheon possible.
To get involved in CLA’s civics outreach initiatives, reach out to us at email@example.com.
Jerrilyn Malana is Chair of CLA’s Civics Engagement and Outreach Committee and Vice President of California Lawyers Foundation.