Rotunda Report: Our Courts: Putting a Friendly Face on Wisconsin Courtrooms:

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    Our Courts: Putting a Friendly Face on Wisconsin Courtrooms

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    July 23, 2014 – With more and more films and television shows depicting what can sometimes be over-the-top legal scenarios, it can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to real-life matters of the court. Our Courts Wisconsin, a State Bar of Wisconsin public education program, tries to set the record straight with four interactive programs geared toward educating the public on the ins-and-outs of the court system.

    All of Our Courts’ programs are delivered by local volunteers – typically both an attorney and a judge – to civic groups throughout the state.

    “What better way to bring some of the reality of the justice system to interested community members than to have attorneys and judges present this information face-to-face, to people in their own area?” said Judge Brian Blanchard, co-chair of Our Courts.  

    Blanchard said the strong level of requests for the program confirms that many groups are interested in hearing about the justice system from lawyers and judges who live and work in their home town.

     “Lawyers from all over the state provide a valuable public service when they take time to share their knowledge in their communities,” Blanchard added. “These presentations will not limit the wide reach of ‘CSI: Las Vegas’ or ‘Judge Judy,’ but they give people in Wisconsin communities a better understanding of how bench and bar attempt to protect rights guaranteed under our laws and advance the cause of justice. ”

    With little over a year since its initial launch, Our Courts continues to grow in popularity. But with increased demand comes the need for more volunteers. Volunteers who will help the State Bar ensure a presentation can be scheduled and fully outfitted with an attorney and judge presenter.

    “Once a presenter goes out into the field, we encourage him or her to abide by one of the program’s primary goals: present a clear and consistent message,” said Our Courts Co-Chair Ann Brandau.

    Brandau said to achieve this goal judges and attorneys must participate in one of the State Bar’s speaker training sessions.

    “We all realize that attorneys and judges know how to talk, but the message is what is important as we send folks out to present under the umbrella of Our Courts,” Brandau said.

    Brandau said that the Our Courts Committee wants the information to be both entertaining and educational. She also stressed the importance of having speakers who are able to keep their presentation non-partisan, non-political and unbiased.

    “As attorneys and judges look to get involved, they should keep in mind that there is not necessarily a script,” Brandau said. “Instead all presenters are given guidelines, but then encouraged to add their own personal touch.”

    Both Brandau and Blanchard encourage their colleagues to give Our Courts a chance.

    Katie StenzKatie 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.

    “We hope that attorneys and judges from all over our great state will lend a helping hand by volunteering to participate in Our Courts,” Brandau said. “It is an exceptional program, one that benefits everyone involved.”

    Our Courts’ four 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 through the use of a fictional case in Understanding the Criminal Court Process. Myths & Realities is a humorous presentation that helps audience members better understand the judicial system through exploring and critically analyzing pop culture references of court proceedings.