Saturday, June 2, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

BOTHELL YOUTH COURT

Youth court aims to educate teens about traffic violations The ticket is not reported to the Department of Licensing, and there are no insurance ramifications. 

By Lizz Giordano
Everett Herald
Wednesday, May 30, 2018 6:18am




Julia Kozak questions a fellow high school student during a hearing in Bothell Youth Court. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

BOTHELL —Judge Michelle Gehlsen has just a few minutes to emphasize the importance of safe driving skills to teenagers appearing before her with traffic violations.

“Usually the parent just pays the ticket, but how does that change behavior? What did they learn?” said Gehlsen, who works in Bothell Municipal Court. “I didn’t have time to really educate.”

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rather than just paying a fine, Gehlsen wanted a process that would allow offending teenagers time to reflect.

That dilemma led her to establish the Bothell Youth Court with UW Bothell Professor Camille Walsh.

The youth-led court gives young drivers an alternative to municipal court. Since established in 2013, the court has heard nearly 100 cases.

To participate, students have to be between 16 and 17 years old and have no previous tickets. Teens must also acknowledge guilt. The benefit is that the ticket is not reported to the department of licensing and there are no insurance ramifications, Gehlsen said.

Youth court procedures began like many other courts. A judge is introduced, opening statements are read and experts testify.

But when it comes to choosing a sentence, known in youth court as a disposition, a restorative justice approach is taken. Court is recessed as the jury, attorneys and the offending student form a circle to collectively decide a penalty.

The conversations start with students discussing who might have been harmed by the traffic infraction. Students give suggestions on how similar situations could be handled in the future.

Julia Kozak questions a fellow high school student during a hearing in Bothell Youth Court. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald) “Hearing from your peers as a young driver is really important,” said Julia Kozak, 18, a senior at Bothell High School and president of the youth court. “You can hear the same thing from your parents, but once you hear it from a friend you believe it.”

And when it comes to deciding a sentence, the restorative justice circle first gets to know the offending student to better understand how the punishment will affect them. The student is encouraged to offer input.

The youth court has the authority to give out fines. But that is rare, Walsh said.

“Generally what the youth are interested in finding is what’s going to develop the skills to do something differently next time,” Walsh said. “They want to address the underlying cause.”

Michelle Reyes, 17, a senior at Monroe High School and a participant in May’s youth court, found her sentence fair — five hours of community service and a reflection paper. The 17-year-old was cited for failing to yield to oncoming traffic when turning left, causing a crash.

Her peers opted for a lighter punishment than the previous hearing because of Reyes’ daily family commitments, which include picking up a younger sister from school each afternoon.
“It was fair enough,” Reyes said. “I’m busy, but I can make the time.”

Gehlsen, who usually hands out fines in her municipal courtroom, pointed to a student who was caught speeding in a school zone. The youth court assigned him crosswalk duty near a school.

“His essay was so powerful about what he learned,” Gehlsen said. “He said, ‘I didn’t realize that people really don’t stop at crosswalks and kids really do run out into the street. I learned why it’s so important to not speed in a school zone.’ ”

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @lizzgior. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

South African Students Participate at Seattle Youth Traffic Court

South African students joined their peers at Seattle Youth Traffic Court and four had the chance to serve on the youth court juries.

The students are from the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students, a Seattle-based nonprofit based at UW that hosts groups of visiting international students for short-term exchanges focused on civic engagement and community service.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

“No one is born a citizen. You have to be taught what that means.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited Seattle Tuesday 1/30/18 for the Civics Summit at the Weston Hotel . She pushed for our schools to have a civics requirement and spoke about the importance of teaching kids how, and why, to engage with government.

“Let’s give kids the opportunity to change their own lives,” she said, as many of those listening smiled at her.

Sotomayor was in town to support the Council on Public Legal Education, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote public understanding of the law and civic rights and responsibilities. Sotomayor launched the localized version of the national online iCivics curriculum, a program that was founded in 2009 by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Washington is only the second state in the country to tailor the curriculum on how government works to the local level.


Milena Haile, a 16-year-old junior at Garfield High School, had demonstrated the workings of Seattle’s Youth Traffic Court to Sotomayor earlier in the day. As a judge on the court, Haile helps first-time traffic offenders from the ages of 16 to 18 maintain a clean driving record and avoid paying a fine. If found guilty, teenagers can opt to complete a certain number of community service hours, or write a letter of apology, or an essay.

When asked about learning civics, Haile, mentioning that her parents came from Eritrea, said: “I think it’s very necessary. There are so many inequalities in our education system.” “Withholding knowledge is injustice,” Haile continued. “Most teenagers in general don’t really know how to register to vote and how the justice system works.”

Asked about Sotomayor, Haile said, “She’s my new role model to be honest.”

Watch as the Seattle Youth Court students present a traffic court hearing at the Civics Summit.  (45:00 minute mark)

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