Each year, the First District Court of Appeals travels to local schools, universities, or community centers to hold oral arguments as part of its Courtroom in the Community initiative. This traveling civic education program provides students and community members with the opportunity to view court proceedings outside of the traditional courtroom.
On October 31, 2023, the First District Court of Appeals held off site arguments at Withrow University High School. Withrow was chosen due to its involvement in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), “Girls in Law Program.” Judge Marilyn Zayas, CPS Student Engagement Specialist Shelly Conrad, and Withrow student Sanaa May are all founding members of “Girls in Law” which aims to educate young women interested in future careers in law. The group wanted to bring the courtroom experience to Girls in Law participants as well as other Withrow students. The principal and staff at Withrow were eager to collaborate with the administrative staff of the Court to coordinate the event.
The arguments were attended by high school juniors at Withrow taking American Government classes and students participating in CPS programs like Honors Society, Girls to Women (G2W), Girls in Law, M.O.R.E., and Student Senate. The students heard arguments in two cases before a panel of judges consisting of Presiding Judge Marilyn Zayas, Judge Ginger Bock, and Judge Jennifer Kinsley. At the conclusion of arguments, students had the opportunity to ask the judges and the judges’ staff attorneys questions about the appeals process and their own experiences in the law. Judges, school staff, and students alike agree that the experience was impactful and exciting.
Zack Davis, Withrow’s Social Studies Department Chair and one of three American Government teachers at Withrow said, “This was a tremendous experience for our government students to actually witness our government in action. I have had numerous students, many that I don’t even teach, tell me how much they enjoyed the experience. My AP Government class had wonderful discussions afterwards about both cases, the overall experience, and how cool it was that the Court came to Withrow to conduct official business.”
“As the Student Engagement Specialist with the Cincinnati Public School District, part of my role is to provide our students with experiences that will enhance their leadership skills and connect them with influential people in the city to inspire pathways to college and careers,” Shelly Conrad said. “The First District Court of Appeals coming to Withrow provided much more than that! Not only did our students get to sit in on the arguments, but they also had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the inspiration behind the judges’ journey to the bench. The students were able to see that they too can wear a robe and become an Appellate Court judge!”
Jerron Gray, Principal of Withrow University High School, said, “We are especially grateful to Judge Marilyn Zayas, founder of the Girls in Law Program that exposes Cincinnati Public School female students to opportunities and experience that help them see themselves in prominent positions within the entire legal profession. The seed that she is planting in the lives of these aspiring attorneys and judges will undoubtedly catapult them forward into careers in law that will have a great impact on the lives of many – bearing much fruit!”
The Court will continue to bring the courtroom to the community as part of its efforts to educate others about the Court’s processes, expose young people to careers in the legal profession, and inspire them to get involved in the justice system.
“Having grow up in a crime and poverty-stricken area, I know how important positive experiences and mentors are for young people. I am committed to continuing to work with all students, and developing programs that teach them about our court system and inspire them to dream big and never give up,” said Judge Zayas.
“Witnessing this engaged group of high school students brought home to me how important it is for us to bring the Court to students.” said Judge Bock. “Transparency is so important in our legal system, and more than a hundred students saw first-hand our court in action. If even one student learned something about the legal system or became inspired to join the legal profession, the day was a success.”
Judge Kinsely said, “I want students to see judges as the real people we are, people they can talk to, connect with, and trust. When I was in school, I thought of a judge as someone to be afraid of. But we are kind and caring people, and experiences like this one help students understand that the distance between us really isn’t all that far.”
The Court’s visit was covered by local media. The story can be found here.
If you are interest in hosting the First District Court of Appeals or visiting the Court on-site, please contact the Court at COA@firstdistrictcoa.org