- Category: Local News
- Created on Sunday, 03 November 2013 19:52
San Diego, California - San Diego Superior Court Judge Ana España was one of them not that long ago.
Just like the students gathered with her at the South County Superior Courthouse last week, she once attended high school in Chula Vista.
From there, España was the first female in her family to go to college. Before she applied to law school, she had never met or talked with a lawyer. She was expected to get married and have children.
“I did that,” she said. “But I knew I wanted something more.”
She found the courage and strength to earn undergraduate and law degrees at University of San Diego, and now sits on the San Diego Superior Court. Next year, she will become the presiding judge of the San Diego Superior Court in Chula Vista.
She’s hoping a new initiative she helped start will encourage more local high school students to think about and plan for future careers, especially in law and the justice system. Called “Open Doors to Justice,” the program helps youth in South County explore the possibilities by exposing them to highly successful professionals in those fields.
“Despite whatever adversity, you can make it,” España said. “We are engaging them and teaching them that the whole world is in front of them.”
Last Friday, 50 students from Chula Vista’s Castle Park High School took a field trip to the South County Courthouse. There, they spent half a day participating in mock trials, in which they argued either side of a First Amendment-related civil case in a real courtroom. They listened to inspiring speeches and interacted with top legal professionals including España, Superior Court Commissioner Terrie Roberts and attorneys from both the Public Defender’s and the District Attorney’s offices as well as some in private practice. Castle Park students also heard from students from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and even a Chula Vista Police Officer who, too, graduated from Castle Park.
“We’re adversarial in the courtroom, but we really are on the same side,” said Shonte Hobson, a Deputy Public Defender based in the South Bay Branch, referring to the attorneys who came together for the event.
The event was planned within a few months, in coordination with the Sweetwater Union High School District.
The idea came after España noticed little representation from South Bay high schools at local mock trial competitions, compared to the number of students from other parts of the County. She figured, why not change that? Others stepped forward to help.
The Castle Park students came from two classes: ninth grade World Geography and tenth grade World History, said teacher David Lopez. When they first learned they would be participating in the field trip and mock trials, they had a hard time visualizing how it might play out, he said. Few had been in a courtroom setting before, he said.
But once one of the Deputy District Attorneys from the South Bay Branch traveled to the school to help them prepare, it became real, Lopez said. They learned their assigned roles in the mock trial and learned the script.
“They were excited, nervous,” Lopez said.
Just like España, some students said they had never met a lawyer before this experience.
That included Kerly Becerra, 15, a sophomore. Before this, her career goal was to become an investigator in a medical examiner’s office. She played an attorney in one of the mock trials last Friday. Now she said she’s considering becoming a lawyer.
Steven Santellan, also a 15-year-old sophomore, got high praises for his performance acting as a plaintiff in a mock trial, with Commissioner Roberts calling him “awesome.” He said his favorite part was also the hardest part: appearing on the witness stand. He had memorized his lines and only looked down at his notes once.
But as much as he enjoyed it, his said his career plan was still to join the Army like his older brother and cousin.
Whatever career path the students end up following, one of the main goals of the event was to encourage them to think about their futures, said Victor Nuñez, Chief of the District Attorney’s South Bay Branch.
At one point last Friday, he led Castle Park High students into a holding cell behind a courtroom and slammed the door shut, giving them a feel for what it feels like to be locked up.
“A lot of these kids’ eyes have been opened up,” he said. “We want to make sure they got the point that the decisions they make affect their future.”