May 21—If you were even thinking of acting up in Bentley Booth's courtroom Friday morning, you would have been strongly advised to, well, think again.
"Settle down, people, " the judge-for-the-morning said, wielding the gavel.
"Or I'll have the bailiff clear the court."
To be fair, it was an emotionally charged case. The Village of Sheepfold v. Josie Wolfcryer carried implications of criminal intent (or at least criminal mischief), balanced out by genuine concern for the community.
In other words, did Ms. Wolfcryer really witness a pack of predators about to menace the sheep of her neighbors ... or was she merely crying wolf ?
The mock case unspooled in the real-life courtroom of Monongalia County Circuit Judge Cindy Scott, who welcomed the fifth-graders of Brookhaven Elementary School, all of whom had roles to play.
There were witnesses—some angry—to be sized up by the furrow-browed jury.
There were court reporters, bailiffs, attorneys for the defense, attorneys for the prosecution and the aforementioned Bentley, who presided over it all from the bench.
Judge Scott, Mon Prosecuting Attorney Perri Jo DeChristopher and a host of other court staffers were also there to answer questions.
When the jury went out to deliberate the case, Bentley's backup addressed the gallery.
"Now the waiting begins, " said Scott, who opened the floor.
"How many jurors have to say if she's guilty ?"
"All of them, " the judge said. If it's not unanimous, it's a hung jury.
"What happens if it's a hung jury ?"
A real-life attorney in Smith's courtroom fielded that one to audience laughter: "Then you guys don't go home today."
Fifteen minutes later, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty.
Teachers Megan Slavey and Denise Evans, however, got their verdict early.
It was in the form of enthused, engaged fifth-graders, getting a peek around the pillars, as it were.
"We wanted to demystify the legal process for them, " Evans said. "And the class did a great job in the trial."
Scott ruled for the Brookhaven barristers during their collective day in court, also.
"It's always a pleasure to welcome students to our courtroom, " the judge said.
"The more in-person opportunities they have to see how the judicial system works, the more likely they are to grow up and be active participants in our democracy."