2017-10-18 / School News

The Morgan County Partnership and the Morgan County Teen Court Program

by Summer Cowles,
Program Facilitator for
Morgan County

In 2011 Morgan County held its first teen court case. To date, Teen Court has had 156 hearings. During the 2016-2017 school year, 13 teens were trained as attorneys. Teen Court met six times during Berkeley Springs High School Club Days and teen court students had two mock trials; one for parents and one at Warm Springs Middle School.

Debra McLaughlin, former Morgan County prosecuting attorney and current Circuit Court judge, identified a need in Morgan County for a diversionary program called Teen Court. She saw the value of the program not only for the offender but also for the other teens involved in the process.

“The benefit to the juvenile delinquent is that he/she are exposed to the court process with no record, no court costs and minimal consequences. Most juveniles learn more from a teen court experience than a citation which results in a plea by phone and a parent paying fine and court costs…. These kids (teen court members) may otherwise never even talk to each other in school having very little in common.

“Suddenly, they find themselves serving on a jury, or learning how to be an advocate. A volunteer lawyer who they would never know, meets with them on a monthly basis and teaches them skills of advocacy for the courtroom. The teens then implement those skills when presenting a case in court.”

The Partnership became aware of the program when McLaughlin, also a Morgan County Coalition member, discussed it in a meeting. The Partnership was able to take the lead and hired Charlie Willard to facilitate the program.

“Several Morgan County attorneys volunteered their time to serve as a teen court judge and/or to train high schoolers to serve as prosecutors and defense attorneys. We were even fortunate enough to get help from a public defender from Martinsburg, who traveled to Morgan County in the evenings to offer his help.

“It has truly been a community effort to make teen court a success for both the student volunteers and the juveniles who would otherwise be referred to the Court,” McLaughlin stated.

For more information about Teen Court, contact Willard at 304-258-7807.

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