CHARLESTON – West Virginia students are going to have to brush up on their history to compete in this year’s video competition from the State Bar. 

The topic is one of the most important articles in history: the Magna Carta.

J. Burton Hunter III, an attorney at Hunter Law Firm and member of the State Bar Board of Governors overlooking this contest, spoke about the competition, what he hopes it accomplishes, and why the Magna Carta is so important in today’s context.

The Magna Carta originally was issued by King John of England as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215. What it established was that everyone, including the King himself, was subject to the law. Its importance still resonates in modern times, especially with our own laws.

“It’s a political year," Hunter said. "And, you know, there is all this controversy over the Second Amendment, Seventh Amendment, stuff like that.

“So, when Anita Casey (Executive Director of the State Bar) said, ‘Why don’t we talk about the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta?,’ which is a very famous document from England, it made sense to me because I do not believe Donald Trump or Hillary or anybody is going to be arguing strenuously about the Magna Carta. I thought it was perfect in the election year to do something like that.”

The Magna Carta is a neutral topic for students and competition yet it is an influential one. One of the most important ideas that came from the Magna Carta was the concept that all free men had the right to justice and a fair trail, which was stated in the 39th clause. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). Yet this progress took time.

“The Manga Carta really did not do a thing for the average peasant. It didn’t do anything for women. It allowed men to continue to dominate women … all it really did was define the rights of these Barons, these very wealthy people [who] were once step below the king. It defined the rights between the king and them. But it limited the rights of the King. So the King couldn’t just go and steal their wood or couldn’t take all the fish out of their streams. It was just a step that lead, eventually, to women’s right and many of the things that we have today. It definitely was read by Thomas Jefferson and all the founding fathers,” Hunter said the effects of the Magna Carta.

He hopes that children and students learn about history and the importance of history and how the law has changed and evolved as they work to make the video presentable. Hunter also hopes that they develop a sense of appreciation for all the struggles and work that went into law.

“I think the idea of having our children understand our legal system [is important], and when all these politicians the Constitution provided this and the founding fathers believed this, I think people who understand that these laws started a thousand years ago, maybe four thousand years ago with the Hammurabi’s code, and has only slowly moved to the system we have today, with a lot of painful fits and starts, I think those people will make grown up citizens – better able to decide where their votes will go," Hunter said.

If they (students) can interact with some attorneys and see some attorneys in that environment, they may think better of the profession….We have to represent some people that aren’t particularly nice people but it helps the system work and it’s better than a knife fight.”

Learning through hands on experience is one of the best tools for education. Hunter said he had to do research and heavy work to make sure the competition is up to snuff. It was not easy but he believes that the reward for both participants and the State Bar is priceless.

“I began to try and learn about (The Magna Carta)," he said. "I found 20 really good judges. A couple of them are college professors, several are professional writers, a couple of them produce independent videos, and some of them are scholarly friends of mine. We have got 20 volunteer judges.

“I was the one who wanted to add the 10 Amazon gift cards. We have had only between five or 10 apply for this thing (so far). I would like at least 50 or more West Virginia students doing this because if they can appreciate the law and the foundations to our law, they might be more likely to go to college, they might be more likely to become attorneys or history professors. I just thought it would be a really fun thing.

They can do a three-minute video and they really don’t have any rules except we are going to come up with five criteria. The criteria are going to be accuracy, creativity, humor. I’m going to try to make it a nice short score card so our judges can focus just on watching the videos. And then, of course, the child, and at least one of their parents, will come to the State Bar dinner down at The Greenbrier. They’ll get to be honored by the West Virginia State Bar.”

There is a Dec. 15 filing deadline, however, and Hunter hopes that more and more students become involved.

“I want to know whether we will have ten kids or one hundred kids (by then)," he said. "We have plenty of time to do a really good and I am just hoping that people will call their schools, call their superintendents, their history teachers and that interests will be generated all over the state. And I certainly do my best to promote it.”

Students must apply to become contestants, with written parental permission, by Dec. 15. Applications may be made by letter sent to Video Contest, West Virginia State Bar, 2000 Deitrick Blvd., Charleston, WV 25311.

The letter should be signed by a parent and specifically confirm the student’s permission to participate. Students are encouraged to notify their teachers if they desire to participate.

Videos may be no longer than three minutes and students will use DropBox to upload their videos Jan. 29, 2016.

For more information or to have questions answered, contact Hunter at hunterjb@hunterlawfirm.net.

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West Virginia State Bar Association
2000 Deitrick Blvd
Charleston, WV - 25311

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