CHARLESTON – One Kanawha County magistrate spent time recently speaking to elementary school children as part of the state’s Robes to School program.
Magistrate Julie Yeager told The West Virginia Record that the program reaches students of varying age groups and helps teach the young people about how the judicial system works.
“To the high school and middle school students, I talk to them about the courts in our state," Yeager said. “Around graduation time and prom season, I speak about the need to make good decisions, so not to put themselves in a position where a DUI or other criminal charge could change their entire path or career. To the younger crowd, I talk about the role of a judge and what I do as a magistrate.”
Yeager added that she explains the various roles of court officials, from judges to prosecutors, so that students will better understand the system and consider possible career paths in the legal arena. She said popular culture helps her relate her message to the students.
“So many of the students are familiar with Judge Judy," she said. "I explain that my job is a lot like Judge Judy, but I am Judge Julie and am much nicer. I try very hard to answer any questions. Unfortunately, some of these youngsters have already been exposed to the courts, either through a custody case or have had a parent arrested on criminal charges."
Yeager said she volunteers for the program each year and eagerly accepts other speaking engagements at schools.
“I go out into the schools every chance I get,” she commented. “I speak to several U.S. history classes at the high schools in the county, a few middle schools and several elementary schools. I also participate in special occasions, such as Dr. Seuss Day, career days, mock trials, as well as field trips to the courthouse. On Dr. Seuss day, I enjoy reading The Cat in the Hat and I explain the need to ‘always tell the truth.’”
The judge said the program is its own reward.
“It is a fantastic program, and I am proud to be a part of it and look forward to continuing my visits with the students,” she said.
Kandi Greter-Kirk, public education coordinator for West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Division of Children Services, said the program began in 2007.
“Anywhere from 30 to 40 Supreme Court justices, circuit judges, family court judges or magistrates participate each year,” she said. “We get a lot of request from elementary schools to have the judicial officers read to them. Middle schools and high schools have them discuss more about their duties as judicial officers.”