Elementary students decide legal fate of Paul Bunyan

Annual Law Day teaches fifth-graders about judicial system

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— Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan took the stand in District and County courts Friday to defend themselves against charges of damaging the environment.

Juries of Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary school fifth-graders had to decide the fate of Bunyan and his trusty companion and whether the actions of the two tall-tale characters were beneficial to the community or harmful to the environment.

One of the charges included turning a lake into soup to feed townspeople and making lakes and streams were they did not belong. Soda Creek Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Cindy Gantick said the environment was an appropriate trial subject because the students are studying ecology and want to protect their natural surroundings.

The mock trial was a teaching aid for Law Day at the Routt County Courthouse, where Steamboat Springs fifth-graders were introduced to the courts and judicial system. The Routt County Bar Association hosts the annual event.

"It was pretty fun," said Nikki Fry, a Soda Creek fifth-grader who played the judge during the mock trial. "I felt important, and I learned it takes a lot to be a judge, and you have to stick with the case."

Lawyers coached the students through the trial, and Routt County Judge James Garrecht gave the students an introduction to the court system. He stressed the importance of jury duty to students who are at an age when they are eager to learn, Garrecht said.

"The police arrest people, but they don't decide whether you are guilty or not," Garrecht said. "It's people like you who make decisions."

The students did not seem to mind being jurors. What seemed most appealing to them were the spinning and reclining chairs in the jury box.

The students asked the judge about his most interesting case, and they were especially impressed with the video link to Routt County Jail.

"This is the closest you want to come to this place," Garrecht said about the detention facility.

Soda Creek fifth-grade teacher Tom Keenan said it's important for students to realize that a rule of law exists.

"What I hope they get out of it is a sense of appreciation," Keenan said.

After the mock trial, students spent time discussing the day with attorneys and asking questions. One student wanted to know who would be at fault if someone was jaywalking and was hit by a car. There also were questions about jury duty, though the fifth-graders still have a few years before they need to think about serving.

"The community here always has been interested in helping the kids learn about citizenship," Garrecht said about Law Day.

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