Children ask judge some tough questions

Chief Judge Frederick D. Smith of the 8th Judicial Circuit talks to students in the Prime Time after-school program at Christ United Methodist Church.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 7:05 p.m.

Murder and robbery are not topics children should worry about, but at a recent after-school program, it became evident that children do worry about acts of violence and they are looking for answers.

Frederick D. Smith, chief judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit, which serves Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Levy and Union counties, patiently and gently fielded questions dealing with acts of violence from about 20 elementary school children in the Prime Time after-school program sponsored by Christ United Methodist Mission located in east Gainesville.

"Obviously, these kids have seen and heard about violence and naturally they have many questions," said Smith, "and we certainly owe them a better environment to grow in."

Recently, Smith, a volunteer in the Prime Time program, came prepared to mentor students in math and reading, but as soon as the children realized he was someone who could answer their questions about acts of violence and the consequences that follow, they bombarded him with questions, leaving no time for math and reading.

"Judge Smith was very informative," said Angela Monroe, director of the program. "The kids were very interested and asked good questions. They really enjoyed having Judge Smith here."

Smith began by talking about what judges do. He discussed the difference between civil and criminal courts. He also discussed the educational process required to become a lawyer and a judge. He also talked about internships offered to law students so that they can work with a judge while still in school.

He explained the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, adding that county courts deal with lesser crimes, like shoplifting, which can include stealing a pack of gum or stealing clothes.

"These are misdemeanors," said Smith. "Shoplifting is serious crime even if it is only something worth 25 cents."

He fielded a barrage of questions with the children describing violent scenarios that included domestic violence, murder and robbery.

One little girl asked what would happen to a 10 year old who killed someone. Smith explained that the outcome would depend on the circumstances. He said sometimes children who commit serious crimes can be judged as adults. "The juvenile court is not about punishment," said Smith. "It is about getting kids on track."

One young boy asked what would happen if someone hit another person with a stick or his hand. "That can put you in jail," Smith responded. "We see too much of family members hitting each other."

When students were asked what they learned from Smith, their answers showed that Smith's words made a deep impression.

‘‘You shouldn't do bad things, so you won't go to jail," said fifth-grader Kayla Thompson.

Said second-grader Nijel Williams-Harvey, ‘‘If someone kills you, they will go to jail."

Second-grader Quiasha Arthur said, "If people get out of jail and do something bad, they will go back to jail."

Smith said he will be back to mentor the children. "We all have a responsibility to give what we have to people who need it," said Smith. "I did it (mentored) here last year and it was extremely rewarding. So, it is a public and personal service."

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