May 2012 Bar Bulletin
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May 2012 Bar Bulletin

SU, Seattle Municipal Court, Garfield High Launch Youth Traffic Court

By Katherine Hedland Hansen


Teen drivers who admit they committed their traffic offenses will have the opportunity to have their punishment set by their peers instead of a judge through a new Youth Traffic Court alliance among Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle University School of Law and Garfield High School.

The city's first Youth Traffic Court will allow eligible teen drivers to appear before Garfield High School students at SU School of Law, rather than in Municipal Court. Cases are heard monthly in the School of Law's courtroom.

"Youth courts provide an opportunity for teens to take responsibility for their driving mistakes, while keeping their driving record clean," said Margaret Fisher, a distinguished practitioner in residence at SU and a national expert in youth courts, who is overseeing the law school's involvement.

Qualified defendants appear before the Youth Court and receive a sanction of community service, youth court jury service, preventive education and/or similar consequences. If they comply, their infractions will be dismissed and they will not be reported to the Department of Licensing or appear on the defendants' driving records.

Garfield High School students serve as judges, jurors, prosecutors, defense counsel and court staff. They are trained and supported by volunteer SU law students. The high school students took part in an intensive training before the first hearing and meet with their law school mentors regularly.

"Youth court provides a meaningful civic opportunity for students, who will have the responsibility of deciding real cases," said Judge Karen Dono­hue.

The project supports the Seattle University Youth Initiative, a long-term commitment by SU faculty, staff and students from all disciplines to join with parents, the Seattle School District, the City of Seattle, foundations, faith communities and more than 30 community organizations to help children of Seattle succeed in school and life. The university was recently recognized with a 2012 Presidential Award for community service for its efforts with the initiative.

The Seattle Police Depart­ment, Seattle City Attor­ney's Office, Seattle Municipal Court, and SU Law School faculty are all committed to working with students through this innovative program.

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