Dozens of young people stood before a judge on Monday. Judge Tom Payne invited Central Middle School students to visit Gulfport Municipal Court. It was part of a new program that teaches students about the legal system by letting them "act" like they're part of it. The trip temporarily transformed the 8th graders into judges and prosecutors.
During the mock trial students saw the many roles that make up the court system.
"The jobs for the judge and the prosecutor and how complicated they are and their decisions they have to make," Donta Pulliam said.
For Eboni Hall, the courtroom lesson was a chance to test her future career choice.
"I want to be a defense attorney or a prosecutor because... well my mom says she wants me to be a lawyer because I like to argue her down a lot," Hall said.
Judge Tom Payne along with the prosecutors, clerks, and police officers who spoke to the students wanted the young people to see the positive aspects of what happens in court. It was also a lesson on how breaking the law can land them before a judge. Judge Payne says Gulfport Municipal has the highest caseload of any court in the state, and too many of those cases involve juveniles.
"Drugs, obviously alcohol, use of alcohol and cigarettes and shop lifting, and those are three areas that I see a great deal of here in courtroom," said Judge Payne. "Young people under the age of 21 and I wanted to let them know it's not something that they can do. It's not legal."
Students also watched a video about how they should behave if approached by the police.