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In mock trial, GW Law teaches civics lessons to kids

By Jaime Ciavarra

During a mock trial, professor Jonathan Turley talks to the jury of Kent Gardens Elementary School students. Will B.B. Wolf be punished for his pork appetite? Only the kids can decide.

Anne Wernikoff

GW Law professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. Now he can add “kid-friendly” law lessons to his list.

Lamenting the loss of civics classes for young kids, the father of four decided to lend his expertise with an up-close courtroom experience. In March, Turley, law students, and GW Law School staff members hosted 450 children from Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean, Va., for a “Big Bad Wolf” mock trial. The case, in which the Big Bad Wolf was tried for the attempted murder of the three little pigs, was part of a field trip to learn about the U.S. Constitution and the law.

Post trial, students gather for snacks in the foyer—a reportedly much easier way to get food than to “huff, puff, and blow the house down.”

Anne Wernikoff

Turley described his time on the mock bench in his blog, Res Ipsa Loquitur “The Thing Itself Speaks” at Here are a few excerpts:

March 27, 2008—I have long been critical of the loss of civics classes in elementary and middle schools. Over the years in speeches, I have suggested that public schools rely on local law schools as a possible resource for such classes. Fairfax County called my bluff and scheduled three classes of 150 students each to visit The George Washington Law School. With about two dozen student and staff volunteers, we put on a mock trial based on the three little pigs, as well as a forensic class for each visit.

Second-year student Joseph Pollak plays the role of B.B. Wolf while 1L Michael Ebell questions him.

Claire Duggan

During the classes I would ask the students what rights are contained in the Constitution. The first three answers given by the second graders were: “The right not to be bullied;” “The right to drive at age 16;” and “The right to buy things on the Internet when you are 18.”

The kids’ answers may have been entertaining, but Turley and the law students refused to be outdone. During separate visits, the second, third, and sixth grade classes each took part in the mock trial as Turley and company acted it out in the courtroom. As the official jury for the trial, the sixth grade students acquitted B.B. Wolf and said they were “suspicious” of the third surviving pig’s story.

“It is enough,” Turley wrote in his blog, “to bring tears to the eyes of a criminal defense attorney.”