Allen Mayor Stephen Terrell presented a proclamation during Tuesday’s City Council meeting recognizing the Allen Municipal Court’s Teen Court program and proclaiming Aug. 27, 2019, “Teen Court Day.”
Teens 13-18 who have been charged with a Class C misdemeanor are offered the chance to opt in to Teen Court for a $20 fee, as opposed to paying a fine and punishment costs. They’re represented in court by trained volunteer teens acting as attorneys, and punishment in the form of community service is assessed by a jury of other teens.
Court Administrator Jed Tamayo, who accepted the proclamation for the court on Tuesday, said that for the last two years, the program has reached a couple of milestones, and it’s continued to grow.
“This year we garnered first runner-up in the state mock trial competition,” he said. “It’s our second year of entering that contest, so we really have seen the fruits of our efforts with respect to continuing to grow the program.”
Presiding Judge Cyndi Porter Gore said Allen’s team was made up of sophomores and juniors, and the winning team was all seniors.
Although the program has been around for years, it was dormant for a while then gained momentum when Juvenile Case Manager Natasha Castille came on board, according to Gore.
“When Mr. Tamayo recognizes Ms. Castille’s efforts, they truly are what got this thing up and running again,” she said.
She also recognized the teen volunteers who serve as attorneys and jury members, many of whom were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This group of young ladies and gentlemen shows up almost every time prepared to take cases even if they didn’t realize they were going to have cases,” Gore said. “They step up whenever others are absent, and many of them here are also on that competitive team that we’ve taken the last two years.”
Now that the program continues to gain steam in the Allen and Lovejoy school districts, Gore said officials are working to take it to the next level. Currently, volunteers go through four-hour training sessions on Saturdays. The forthcoming Teen Court Academy will expand that training into an eight-month process that begins with a two-hour overview and breaks down into one and a half- to two-hour sessions every month. The training sessions will cover court proceedings in smaller parts like opening statements, direct examination, closing arguments, objections and evidence.
“Because of that, we’re also adding different conditions that they have to do to progress through the program,” Gore said. “My ultimate plan is by the time they hit their senior year they’ll be putting on the black robe and be sitting as the judge while Ms. Castille and I are there just to make sure everything runs smoothly. It’ll truly be a teen court.”