Aug. 30, 2013 – The State Bar of Wisconsin is taking one of its community-based education programs on the road. Our Courts Wisconsin will make its way around the state over the next several months in an effort to further public knowledge and understanding of the courts and legal system.
Our Courts made its debut at the Richland County Courthouse in July, and since then groups have been submitting requests for one, two or all four of the available presentations. To date, there are nearly 20 events booked – and even more in the works.
“I really think there is a general lack of understanding of the courts. People know that the courts are involved in the decision making process, but the details beyond that may be unknown or unrecognized,” said Brown County Circuit Court Judge Marc Hammer. “It’s important for people to understand how our courts function, and once they do, they are typically more accepting of the tough decisions legal professionals have to make on a daily basis.”
Hammer recently presented one of Our Courts most popular programs to a group in Green Bay. Myths & Realities in Wisconsin’s Courts is a humorous presentation that helps individuals to understand the court system through movie clip depictions of court proceedings.
“Myths & Realities effectively helped members of my audience develop a more realistic assessment of what state courts do. Most people already have a basic understanding of the courts, but it’s not always aligned with reality. Myths & Realities gives audience members a healthy dose of the truth, while keeping the conversation upbeat and interesting,” Hammer said.
Hammer will return to the podium in October with another presentation of Myths & Realities, only this time he’ll be addressing the Sturgeon Bay Rotary Club. He said that he appreciates the lighthearted approach that Myths & Realities brings to the court system.
“Everyone’s seen ‘My Cousin Vinny,’ so making use of these commonly experienced video vignettes is extremely effective,” Hammer explained.
All of the Our Courts programs rely on volunteer judges and attorneys. In three out of the four programs a judge and attorney are paired up to co-present. But before they are assigned to community presentations, the volunteers must attend one of the State Bar’s day-long training programs.
Our Courts’ other programs range from the dynamic reading of an essay about Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln’s Legacy to an interactive look at Wisconsin’s courts in Understanding the Importance of Your Court System. Audience members will gain knowledge of criminal court proceedings in Understanding the Criminal Court Process.
Katie Stenz is the public affairs coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org kstenz wisbar wisbar kstenz org, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.
“On top of everything else, all of the programs offer the community a unique look into the role of judges,” said Hammer. “Judges are constrained by what they do and how they function, and this is a tailor-made way for judges to communicate with and relate to their community. It also helps people to understand that the decisions I make as a judge are based on basic court policies and procedures.”
Our Courts in Your Community
State Bar members are encouraged to get out and not only volunteer to be an Our Courts presenter, but to attend one of the presentations.
“As these programs make their way across the state, attorneys and judges should consider attending an event in their area. It could be an excellent opportunity to represent the legal profession and get involved in a community activity,” Hammer said.
Anyone can make a request for a free Our Courts presentation, which means that the programs will start to pop up in many of the state’s cities and towns. An attorney or judge may even recognize a need for a program in their own neighborhood, and is encouraged to help the State Bar coordinate an event.
“I highly recommend that my colleagues get involved with Our Courts – even if it simply means stopping by an event. It’s a fun and interesting way to reach out and educate,” said Hammer.
Our Courts is funded by a grant from the Wisconsin Law Foundation, charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin.
View a current Our Courts’ schedule or contact the State Bar of Wisconsin Public Education Program Manager at (608) 250-6191 or PubEdCoordinator@wisbar.org for more information or to volunteer. You may also visit www.wisbar.org/OurCourts.