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Students explore courtroom firsthand with Shadow-a-Judge series

As part of the College of Law’s Institute for Advocacy & Dispute Resolution and As​ylum & Immigration Law Clinic, students shadowed judges at several events during fall 2015. 

This year's annual Shadow-a-Judge series included a tour of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center at the Juvenile Justice Courthouse, a visit to the Chicago Immigration Court for a Q&A with an immigration judge and the chance to witness a sentencing hearing. Students had the opportunity to network, interact with judges and observe the crucial operations of the courtroom. 

On September 23, students attended the sentencing hearing of Bryant Brewer at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Brewer was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder in the 2010 shooting death of Chicago Police Officer Thor Soderberg. 

The [Shadow-a-Judge] experience puts law students face-to-face with the realities of life in the judicial system,” said Renita Ward, a second-year student who attended the Criminal Division event. “I had the opportunity to walk through the same entrance lawyers and court officials use at the courthouse, meet staff attorneys and clerks in chambers, witness court proceedings involving all parties (defense counsel, prosecutor, jurors, suspected offenders/inmates and the fact finder) and to ask questions of a sitting judge during lunch. The visit allows the machinations of rules of evidence and matters of law to be examined and questioned in real time.” 

I liked the overall experience of not feeling lost in a huge courtroom,” added first-year student Mary Johnson. “We had several guides and we were truly treated with respect and able to engage law clerks and judges in conversation. I honestly and sincerely thank you for the opportunity. It was great and super informative.” 

On October 28, students toured the Juvenile Justice Courthouse, including the school and living quarters for youth ages 10 to 16. The center houses juveniles who are awaiting adjudication of their cases by the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Courts and provides care for youth who have been transferred from juvenile court jurisdiction to criminal court. These youth would otherwise be incarcerated in the county jail. 

“The detention center is not normally open to the public,” explained Field Placement Program (FPP) Director Natalie Wolfe, “so getting to tour it is a unique experience, even though we do not get to interact with the juveniles themselves.” 

First-year student Candace Watkins found that the visit provided some clarity. “I am unsure about what area I want to focus on and this gave me a better perspective,” she said. “I especially enjoyed the small panel that allowed us to talk with members of each side of the legal system. I also enjoyed the tour of the juvenile facility.” 

As a new addition to the series, the immigration court Q&A gave students a chance to meet directly with immigration Judge James R. Fujimoto. The event took place on November 17 at the Chicago Immigration Court, also known as the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Asylum & Immigration Law Clinical Instructor and Director Sioban Albiol organized the Q&A, vetting students’ questions in advance before the group met informally with Judge Fujimoto and his clerks. In addition to Albiol’s yearlong clinical students, FPP Director Wolfe brought in four nonclinical law students.