Students love the law — and pizza, too

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Courtesy photo A group of 50 Lakeland High School students participated in Love the Law Day at Coeur d’Alene’s federal courthouse on Tuesday.

COEUR d’ALENE — The hot pizzas, almost three dozen, arrived at Coeur d’Alene’s federal courthouse in time for lunch Tuesday.

But it wasn’t the pizza that held the attention of 50 Lakeland High students who sat through two criminal hearings and watched as U.S. District Court Judge David C. Nye meted sentences for two drug dealers in separate cases.

The students, part of Rathdrum teacher Nick Haynes’s Law and Order class, were taken aback by the potency of the law and its requisite in the maintenance of order.

For some of the students, the day spent at the U.S. District Courthouse on the 6400 block of north Mineral Drive changed their outlook.

It may have afforded them a glimpse into a possible post-graduation pathway.

“It gave me a view of how the law works,” said Makayla Smit, a Lakeland junior.

Had she ever considered law as a career?

“I do now,” she said.

Coeur d’Alene attorney Kinzo Mihara, who has organized similar events, usually about twice a year with courts throughout the area, said providing students with an introduction to the legal profession is among the program’s goals.

Many attorneys almost accidentally pursue a law degree, or enter the profession via nontraditional routes, Mihara said.

After two tours with the U.S. Marine Corps, Mihara was introduced to the legal profession while working in audio and visual support at a law firm.

“Many people just happen to go to law school,” he said. “Mine was a very long, circuitous path.”

The program, supported by the state’s bar association, removes the curtain and gives students an up close and personal glimpse at the people in front of, and behind, the bench.

At a pizza chat-and-chew session in a courthouse conference room, First District Judge Cynthia K.C. Meyer told the students she was afraid of public speaking and did not consider becoming a trial attorney or a judge while attending law school.

She made the transition after being volunteered to represent a group and realizing she liked talking in a courtroom.

“You set aside your nervousness, and your confidence builds,” Meyer said.

Ninth Circuit Judge Richard C. Tallman, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals 18 years ago by Bill Clinton, remembers being interviewed by 97-year-old North Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond before being confirmed.

“It was not what I would call a vigorous cross-examination,” said Tallman, whose chambers were moved recently from Seattle to Coeur d’Alene.

Tallman’s appointment is for life.

The judges talked about trials, what factors determine sentences, and how they make decisions in court that indelibly affect the lives of defendants. They discussed capital punishment and attorney tactics.

Tuesday’s group was the greatest number of students to attend the Love the Law Day at one time. Students ranged from sophomores to seniors, and demand for the Lakeland class is growing, said Haynes, who has been teaching the law course in Rathdrum for seven years.

“It’s becoming a pretty popular elective,” he said.

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