Judge for yourselves in this court series

On any given weekday, some 3,500 people enter the Buncombe County Courthouse to participate—like it or not—in the North Carolina justice system. That system remains a mystery to many locals, but now there’s a cost-free opportunity to see how it all works.

On three upcoming Thursday evenings, the courthouse will play host to “A Reality Courtroom Series.” Coordinated by the League of Women Voters and co-sponsored by Pisgah Legal Services and the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council, the series stars a cast of “real” characters from the court system who will give a gavel-to-gavel demonstration of justice, Buncombe-style.

The April 19 introductory session will offer an overview of the N.C. justice system, featuring some of the actual local players—such as a bailiff, clerk, judge, prosecuting attorney, criminal-defense attorney and civil attorney—discussing their roles before (or behind) the bench.

On April 26, the action heats up as three criminal-court cases and judicial terminology are explored. The May 3 session moves a case from District Court to Superior Court, following the action of an appeal. All three events will close with question-and-answer sessions.

Series coordinator Ruth Christie says she finds the N.C. system much more complicated than the court system in her former home state of New York. She suggests that there are two particular audiences for “reality courtroom”: people who are simply curious about how the system works and those whose are more at risk for encountering the system first-hand. At the recommendation of minority-community representatives, invitations have gone out to individual leaders in “at-risk” communities, Christie says.

“A lot of people will have contact with the court sometime in their life,” Christie notes—whether it’s because of a speeding ticket, jury duty, family or neighborhood problems, or becoming a victim or accused committer of a crime. So a benefit of attending the series is “getting comfortable with the court,” she notes, and gaining an understanding of the justice system’s players and processes.

Each of the three parts of the series will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the recently remodeled fifth-floor courtroom. The program is free and open to the public. Spanish translation will be available for reservations made by Thursday, April 12, at 258-8223. The LWV plans to videotape the series for community distribution and for broadcast on the URTV public-access channel, and notes that teachers in the county school system who attend can receive CEU credit.

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