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Norristown, PA - In the summer of 2009, United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter spoke to the American Bar Association, “about the risk to our constitutional government when a substantial portion of the American populous simply fails to gain the understanding of how the government works.”  Justice Souter added that, “about two-thirds of the people in the United States cannot even name all of the three branches of the national government.”  He then asked the audience “to consider the danger to judicial independence when people have no conception of how the judiciary fits with the constitutional scheme.”  Justice Souter concluded his remarks that day stating that, “Civic education in the United States is not good enough, and we have to do something about it.”  Montgomery County’s lawyers and judges have answered this call to action and are doing just that. 
With support from the Pennsylvania Bar Association, lawyers from the Montgomery Bar Association and Montgomery County’s Bench recently teamed up to present six (6) one hour lessons to sixth grade classes throughout the Norristown Area School District as part of a grassroots civics education initiative entitled, “Liberty and Law”.  Preparation began last June and by September, fifteen (15) two-person teams, consisting of one judge and one lawyer each, began presenting classes at the Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy, East Norriton Middle School, and the Stewart Middle School, thereby making certain that every sixth grade middle school student in the Norristown School District received instruction. 

According to MBA President Steven Lupin, “Similar programs have been initiated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh high schools; however, given the statistics on high school dropout rates, together with our opinion that we could most effectively influence younger students, we decided to present the program to middle school students.”

President Judge Hodgson of Montgomery County’s Court of Common Pleas solicited the Bench for volunteers and had a resounding response and the Bar Association had many volunteers as well.  David Trevaskis, Pro Bono Coordinator for the PBA provided course materials and conducted two training sessions for the presenters. 

The second of six sessions was presented by 15 teams of judges and lawyers to over 500 area middle school students last Friday.  The next session will be held on December 2nd, with three remaining sessions scheduled for the spring.  Norristown Superintendent Janet Samuels and Chief Academic Officer Deborah Chagin welcomed the program with open arms and in a letter to the Montgomery Bar Association, Chagin wrote: “I was at East Norriton this morning, and I think the civics presentations went beautifully.  The judges and lawyers were well-prepared, interesting and very inspiring.  We are so thrilled to be part of this project.  Thank you for all the time and effort you gave to insure a very successful opening day.”

In a recent message to members, MBA President Steven Lupin summarized the effort by stating, “Against the backdrop of this great recession, many lawyers and judges have stepped forward and volunteered their time to fulfill an important function of educating a school district’s students to the Constitution, the government it created, and to civics in general”.  Lupin added, “Justice Sandra Day O’Connor summed it all up when she said, “Knowledge of our Constitution and the role of our courts is not handed down in a gene pool.  Each generation must learn about our system of government and the citizen’s role.”

Left: The Honorable Thomas C. Branca of Montgomery County’s Court of Common Pleas holds court before students at East Norriton Middle School on Thursday, September 30, 2010.  Judge Branca was paired with Immediate MBA Past President Mark A. Kearney, Esq. (right) to present an introductory lesson on civics and the law.

 

 
Above Left: The Honorable Garrett D. Page (left) teaches a class on “Our Rights and Freedoms” to students at Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy on Friday, October 29, 2010.  Above Right: Maria Gibbons, Esq. (left) was paired with Judge Page (right) of Montgomery County’s Court of Common Pleas.  This was the second in a series of six lessons being presented by Montgomery County attorneys and judges as part of our legal community’s district wide civics initiative, entitled “Liberty and Law – A Civics Education Program”.  To date, over 15 volunteer judges from Montgomery County’s Court of Common have teamed up with volunteer attorneys from the Montgomery Bar Association to teach civics to middle schools students throughout the Norristown Area School District.  

 

About the Montgomery Bar Association... Established in 1885 to professionalize the county’s practice of law, the Montgomery Bar Association (MBA) is one of our nation’s oldest and most respected bar associations, representing over 2,100 legal professionals in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Now, as then, the MBA exists to uphold legal and ethical standards in our legal community.  As the 3rd largest Bar in Pennsylvania, the MBA has a longstanding tradition of service to its membership and the community.   For members, the MBA offers an important arena for networking, professional development and education.  For the community, the MBA serves as a legal resource offering education, legal assistance, funds and resources for individuals and agencies in need.  The Association is actively engaged in public service through community outreach, free educational events offered throughout the year, programs like the Montgomery Child Advocacy Project, the Mock Trial Competitions for high-school students, and more.  For more information on the Montgomery Bar Association, visit www.montgomerybar.org.