Students, staff, and respected professionals from the legal field recently came together to celebrate the opening of a new courtroom facility at Lincoln High School.

Built with the help of a generous donation from Sony Electronics Inc., the courtroom will be used by Lincoln’s Mock Trial Team and for criminal justice classes as well as the SAY San Diego Teen Court diversion program.

The dedication was marked by powerful words from U.S. District Court Judge John Houston and San Diego County Superior Court Judge Sharon Majors-Lewis, who spoke about the importance of familiarizing students with our criminal justice system in a positive way.

Houston, appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California by President Bush in 2003, spoke about his experience growing up in the pre-civil rights-era South and attending segregated schools. He encouraged the students in attendance to overcome problems they face in their community today by working hard.

“Study. Make good grades. That’s the way out of all this,” Houston said. He also lauded the significance of students having access to a life-size courtroom in their school. “This opportunity is huge. Take advantage of it,” he said.

The message was similarly motivating when Judge Sharon Majors-Lewis spoke to students. Majors-Lewis, herself a Lincoln High School alumnae, made history by becoming the State of California’s first female judicial appointments secretary in 2007.

“It is your civic duty to serve if you’re called for jury duty. It is your civic duty to vote,” Majors-Lewis said.  Students, she said, have a responsibility “to learn, to have knowledge, because knowledge is power.”

The judges’ inspirational speeches were followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and flag presentation, where students and staff applauded as the mock courtroom was declared “open for business.”

The Lincoln High School Criminal Justice Program and Mock Trial Team offer work and real-life-related experiences for high school students to explore careers and how to address real issues related to our criminal justice system.  The Mock Trial team at Lincoln has been in existence for four years, and will be competing in the annual county-wide Constitutional Rights Foundation Mock Trial competition at the end of February at the Superior Court of San Diego. The case being argued in this year’s Mock Trial Competition is a Human Trafficking case.

The courtroom is also being used for the SAY San Diego Teen Court diversion program, working to interrupt the “school to prison” pipeline.  Some students have had very traumatic experiences at the courthouse and are hesitant to attend field trips, but this courtroom provides a “safe” place for students to do mock trials and practice critical thinking and communication skills.

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