Story and photo by Amanda Sullivan
More than 80 students from Thayer Elementary School filed into the courtroom May 7 to witness a mock trial put on by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate in recognition of Law Day 2019.
“Law Day is a national day set aside to celebrate the nation’s commitment to the rule of law,” said Capt. Majessire Smith, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate administrative law attorney. “The purpose of Law Day is to provide an opportunity to reflect and to understand how law and the legal process protect our liberty.”
“Each year the American Bar Association chooses the Law Day Theme,” Smith said. “This year’s theme — ‘Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society’ — was chosen because this year marks the centennial of Abrams v. United States, a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the concept of the marketplace of ideas first entered American jurisprudence in Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous dissent.”
She said her office wanted to give the children a fun and relevant demonstration of what it might look like for someone to be sued in court for exercising their freedom of speech in a way that is not protected by the first amendment.
Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, gave opening remarks encouraging the children to pay attention to the message being delivered and stressed the importance of understanding and exercising the rights Americans have.
“What you’re going to experience today is attorneys at work” Martin said, “What I want you to really understand is, America is one of those few countries where we have rights, and so today you are going to see one of our fundamental rights exercised.”
Twelve of the 4th and 5th graders were selected as jurors in the mock civil trial between the plaintiff, Mr. Alexander T. Wolf, played by Spc. Wayne Chambers, and the defendant, Ms. Georgia Piggly, played by Spc. Summer Wright.
Piggly was accused of defaming Wolf on social media by calling him a bully and a monster because he destroyed her siblings’ homes before “gobbling them up.” Wolf, a social media influencer, claimed Piggly’s statements were untrue and that she caused him to lose part of his fan base with her lies.
The jury returned a not guilty verdict after hearing testimony from both sides and a five-minute deliberation, deciding Piggly’s statements were covered under freedom of speech because her statements were true; therefore, she did not defame Wolf.
The students in the audience were given the opportunity to discuss their opinions during the jury’s deliberation.
One of those students, 4th grader Brinden Wright, agreed with the jury’s decision.
“I feel he blew their house down on purpose,” he said. “If it was an accident, he would not have eaten them.”
Wright said he enjoyed the learning experience, especially learning about the trial process and new terminologies. He shared what freedom of speech means to him.
“I feel it means you have the right to speak for yourself and to express your ideas or thoughts,” Wright said.
Smith expressed how impressed her office was with the quality of the children’s analysis of the evidence.
“The children in the jury box did an outstanding job of analyzing and discussing the evidence during their deliberation,” she said. “The children in the audience had remarkable insight into the evidence as well.”