On May 11, 2007, volunteers joined hands to make a difference in the lives of female elementary and high school students in the Chicago area. The Women Everywhere: Partners in Service Project sponsored an informative, inspiring, fun-filled day for more than 250 students from Chicago area schools. The students participated in programs in different legal venues where federal and state judges graciously allowed the students to view proceedings in their courtrooms, and took time to explain varying aspects of the legal system to the students. In keeping with the theme of the Women Everywhere program, Women Helping Women, the judges and lawyers who served as tour guides for the students encouraged the students to further their education so that, in turn, the students may be able to have a positive impact on their respective communities. While groups of students toured the federal courts, Domestic Violence Court, Criminal Court, and courtrooms in the Daley Center, this article will highlight the Appellate Court Educational Seminar.
The Oprah magazine, mugs, T-shirts, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, were a recipe for fun while focusing on a serious problem. Co-chairs Yolaine Dauphin and Michele Jochner selected the subject of human trafficking for the Educational Seminar, believing it to be particularly apropos for female high school students. Human trafficking is a scourge to which some of the students participating in the seminar might fall prey. A young girl who leaves her home, whether that home be her parents’ home or a foster care home, has a significant chance of becoming a victim of human trafficking. Once forced into trafficking, she is at risk psychologically and physically, and, in some cases, she risks her very life.
To prepare for the Educational Seminar, attorney Michael Edwalds, and Ms. Dauphin developed a research problem on human trafficking. The facts are simple but all too close to reality. After another fight with her father, Maria runs away from home. At the bus station, she meets Katherine, who remembers her from high school. Katherine tells her of a job cleaning rooms in a motel in Wisconsin, and Maria accepts Katherine’s offer of clothes and transportation to the motel. Once at the motel, Maria discovers that her job entails more than cleaning rooms. She also learns she must work to pay Katherine for the clothes, and to pay Mike, the motel owner, for the motel room as well as for the finder’s fee that Mike paid to Katherine.
Armed with these facts, Mr. Edwalds and attorney April Otterberg performed legal research and drafted a memorandum to be used in the mock appellate trial. The memorandum would provide background information for Justice P. Scott Neville and Justice Denise O’Malley of the Illinois Appellate Court as they prepared to judge the mock appellate trial. The memorandum would also provide a blueprint for Ms. Otterberg, and attorneys Maureen Kirby and Douglas Uhlinger to prepare the students for the mock appellate argument.
The stage being set, the Educational Seminar began with a game. Attorney Monica Llorente prepared questions on the rights of women in general and on the issue of human trafficking. Several students volunteered to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire. They polled the audience and used other lifelines to answer the questions. Participants in the game were rewarded with mugs and T-shirts.
The students received additional materials on human trafficking from attorney Elizabeth Yore. Formerly of DCFS and now counsel to Harpo Studio, Yore is an expert on human trafficking. She gave the students information about human trafficking, mixed with a good dose of encouragement to stay on the right path.
Judge Ann C. Williams of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, followed with a very personal message of sacrifice and perseverance. Her father, a professional who could not obtain employment in his field, drove a bus in order to take care of his family and provide his daughter with an education. Judge Williams reminded the students of the value of education and urged them to look for the positive in every situation.
The attorney volunteers then went into play to prepare the students for the mock appellate argument. The attorneys recognized that the time allotted for preparation was short. They painted the problem with broad strokes and gave the students only the general outline of the legal issues. Although short, infused with the students’ enthusiasm the preparation was enough. There was no shortage of volunteers to present the arguments. Two students presented the case of the prosecution, one student represented the motel owner, and the last student represented Katherine. The judges asked insightful questions and the students answered, explaining their positions without making concessions. At the conclusion of arguments, Justice Neville delivered the ruling of the court. The effervescent students posed for photographs, reminders of the day in court, as they clutched copies of the Oprah magazine made available by Yore.
It was then time for lunch and a walk to the James Thompson Center to rejoin the main group of students. The afternoon ended with an interactive session intended to provide the students insight into other professional pathways. News anchor, Nancy Pender, explained how she gathers information for a news story. A CSI investigator provided information about crime scene investigation and explained that she has the same DNA as her identical sisters but not the same fingerprints. An expert on bullies communicated strategies to deal with bullies at school. Even as the students boarded their buses for the ride back to school, the volunteers begin to critique the year’s program and think of ways to increase the impact and the information and fun quotients of the next year’s program.