CHARLESTON – Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman hosted mock trials with students from Overbrook Elementary School recently.
On Jan. 17 and Jan. 20, fifth-graders from Overbrook Elementary were able to experience the inside of Kaufman’s courtroom in the Kanawha County Judicial Building. Each trial lasted two hours.
“The educational purpose of mock trials is important,” Kaufman told The West Virginia Record. “The relationship between judges and the community is important and reaching children is important to me because they’re going to be future voters.”
Kaufman regularly hosts students for mock trials but this was the youngest group he’s ever had.
“They might have been too young to learn the complexities of the judicial system,” Kaufman said.
The students gave a trial in the case Goldilocks v. The Three Bears and explored questions about evidence left at the scene, like the front door being left open. They were able to pick different roles such as attorney, defendant or plaintiff.
Kaufman himself even gets into the role of pretend court, wearing a long, white wig in the image of the old English judicial system. The students were allowed to stand next him, wear judges’ robes and hit his gavel. Even members of the sheriff’s office participated. The students were taken into the holding cells and were allowed to wear handcuffs if they wanted to.
Kaufman believes there are a lot of lessons students can learn from visiting the courtroom.
"They see the physicality of the courtroom and learn that everyone is equal under the law,” Kaufman said. “They see there are two tables that look exactly the same and learn that you always have one side to an issue and another side to an issue.”
The students are also able to use the microphones and see how the projectors and video display equipment plays a role in a trial.
Kaufman likes the students to know that the people who are part of the legal system are also regular members of the community who are just like everyone else.
Kaufman said he sees that the children have a lot of fun participating and he will continue hosting mock trials for the local schools.
“I will do them regularly enough to keep me connected to the community,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman was born and raised in Charleston. He received his English and political science bachelor's degrees from Tufts University and received his law degree from West Virginia University College of Law.
He was appointed to the West Virginia State Senate by then-Gov. John D. Rockefeller IV in 1982. He was elected to the same position in 1984.
He has served as chief judge on the 13th Judicial Circuit since 1988. He is also the past president and executive officer of the West Virginia Judicial Association.
The 13th Judicial Circuit is West Virginia’s largest circuit.