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Mock court demonstrates cyber-bullying consequences

Student says she enjoyed working with Placer prosecutor
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Some Auburn students got a lesson in the consequences of cyber bullying Wednesday. Placer County court officials teamed up with St. Joseph’s Catholic School to put on a mock juvenile trial in the Placer County Juvenile Detention Center in Auburn. The trial stemmed from a fake-cyber bullying incident in which one middle-school girl was arrested for sending a classmate a text message telling her she would “mess her up.” In the story, two girls were interested in one boy. The boy, however, ignored them and instead showed interest in one of their friends, played by student Ani Lewis. At a birthday party the two girls posted nasty comments on Ani’s Facebook page. One of the fake messages read, “Hey that Ani is just a fat, ugly, stupid, immature whore.” When Ani complained about the messages and asked her peers to take them down, one of the bullying girls, “A.J.” Woo, sent Ani the text message. As a result Ani told her parents, who called the police, and A.J. was arrested. In the story the Placer County Juvenile Court charged A.J. with breaking California Penal Code 422, which covers threats that could result in the death or great bodily injury of a person. The code includes electronic communications. During the mock trial, all courtroom positions were played by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, including that of judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court clerk, court reporter, victims, sketch artist, bailiffs, jurors and more. The students had actual officials who hold those positions guiding them through the process. Placer County Deputy District Attorney Todd Kuhnen worked with the student prosecutors and Alison Cohen, of the Law Offices of Mark Berg, worked with student defense attorneys to ask questions of witnesses, bring evidence forward, make objections where necessary and make closing statements. Judge Colleen Nichols assisted student judge Adam McGrew. Student bailiffs Gabby Anderson and Jiman Kim led witnesses to the stand and kept student jurors in line. Student Court Clerk Elizabeth Hennessy swore witnesses in and helped mark evidence exhibits. Student Prosecutor Haley Harbour, 12, said she enjoyed Kuhnen’s coaching. “It was fun to know that he does this every day,” Haley said. Haley said she learned a valuable lesson from the mock trial. “I learned that whatever I put on Facebook or on the computer can come back and hurt me in later years,” she said. “I hope (my classmates) never do this and that my friends make wise decisions.” As the trial began A.J. was led from the back room in juvenile inmate garb. After evidence was presented and student jurors deliberated, the character A.J. played in the story was found guilty of the crime. Karen Sotelo, a Placer County court reporter, helped organize the event, and said she believes it was an important exercise both from the standpoint of a court reporter and as a mom. “First of all from just an observer and someone who listens to kids all day long, it’s become more prominent that kids are using technology to communicate,” Sotelo said. Sotelo said she hopes the mock trials teaches the kids that cyber bullying does hurt its victims, and those doing it can face criminal consequences. “What happens is they go back and forth with no consequences, and it just elevates,” she said. “There are no facial reactions to watch the person you are hurting. They have no idea there is a consequence for cyber bullying, because it’s such a new problem. They have no idea that they could be charged.” JoAnn O’Donnell, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Joseph’s, said she hopes the project makes students think before they act. “I hope that they think twice before they do (cyber bullying),” O’Donnell said. “That there is time before they hit the send button to decide if this is what they really want to do.” Mock victim Ani Lewis said she sometimes works with younger kids and tries to explain to them how to handle bullying. “(The trial) felt true to form,” Ani said. “I have been bullied before. I say tell them you don’t like what they are doing and if they take it a step further tell your parents and get it resolved.” Nichols and Judge Frances Kearney, who is the juvenile court judge, both said they were impressed by how prepared the student participants were. Katie Poggi, 13, who was acting as the sketch artist for the trial, said she learned a lot from the experience. “What I’m learning is that your choices can have big consequences,” Katie said. “For instance, they were saying they were just kidding, but everybody knows if you say that and you don’t have true intent behind it, it’s not going to get you very far.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com