The courtroom at D.C. Superior Court was packed with teenagers, and they rose to their feet when Judge Anita Josey-Herring — and her 19-year-old, robed stand-in — came in to begin the mock “cyberbullying” trial.
Lynette Collins, a prosecutor in the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, stressed to 16-year-old Chibudike Ukwuani of Bowie that it was the government’s burden to prove that the threat “Kris the King” made on Facebook implicated him in the assault of a 15-year-old Latino immigrant in the hallway of Lincoln High School.
But 15-year-old defense attorney Jeremiah Hall had been groomed well by his professional cohorts. Even though the prosecution pointed out that Kris had posted the message “don’t come to the next meeting — you’ll be sorry if you do,” it didn’t mean that 15-year-old Carla Hernandez hadn’t provoked a fight that resulted in her being attacked on her way to the school bus.
“Yes or no — did you hit Kris?” Hall asked, just before Ukwuani spotted the leading question and yelled, “Objection, your honor!” Judge Quarmae Martin, 19, of Southeast Washington, responded by yelling, “Sustained!”
The courtroom sparring was part of the 2011 Youth Law Fair, which brought more than 400 youths from across the region to the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse for an event sponsored by the court and the D.C. Bar Association. It was the 12th year for the event. Turnout was up from about 150 in 2010, said Superior Court spokesman Thomas Feeney.
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield said the forum on cyberbullying was especially useful at a time when young people increasingly are getting into legal hot water or being victimized because of what they post or what is being posted by others about them on the Internet.
“We wanted to give information to young people so that they can make good decisions about the social networking,” Satterfield said. “They are going to social-network — young people do it better than us — but we want to make sure that they make good decisions and that there are no consequences to their decisions down the road that would prevent them from getting a job. . . . It is our responsibility to help them think that far ahead.”
Before the mock trial, Curtis Etherly, a District lawyer and the vice president for public affairs and communications with Coca-Cola Enterprises, walked between rows of young people with a cordless microphone, fielding questions.
“A person is guilty of cyberbullying if that person harasses or intimidates another by any means — written, verbal or electronic communication — with the intent to cause physical harm, property damage or interfere with educational opportunities,” Etherly said, citing a definition crafted by the Anti-Defamation League.
Officer LaShaun Phillips of the D.C. police Youth Investigations Branch said, “We have had a lot of fights that started because of what someone said on the Internet.” He added that one of the problems was parents failing to monitor or limit their children’s use of social networks.
“What parents need to do is get more involved and learn what kinds of things that these kids are putting on the computer,” Phillips said. “You reward kids with so much stuff, and they are not even making the grades in school.”
Several teenagers said taking away cellphones is not dealing with the real problem. Alexis Young, 16, a resident of the District, said too many young people today were acting like cowards instead of facing their problems.
“If you got something to say, you should be man enough to say it to someone in the face,” she said.