Three Girl Scout troops from Avon — Troops 53078, 51189 and 51013 — spent several hours at Rochester’s Hall of Justice on Tuesday for an outing intended to demonstrate how the court system works and the many career paths available to women.
“We want the girls to understand the empowering roles women have today,” said Rebecca Corcoran, leader of troop 53078 who works in human resources at Empire Justice Center.
Amy Schwartz, senior staff attorney at Empire Justice, liked the idea of presenting career ideas to the young ladies and, with a few phone calls and encouragement from colleagues in the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys, “A Day at the Courthouse” was scheduled.
Tour guides for the event included Connie Hart, principal court attorney to Acting County Court Judge John Schwartz, Rochester City Court; Jeanne Arnold, principal court attorney to Acting Supreme Court Justice Dandrea Ruhlmann, Monroe County Family Court; Vicki Avery, director of human resources for the Seventh Judicial District; and Janelle Stone, assistant court analyst in the human resources unit.
Avery noted that many groups tour the Hall of Justice each year.
“In any given week, we might have three different groups come through for tours,” she said. “So we have a couple dozen court employees who alternate in providing tours, explaining procedures, and getting visitors through security.”
To start the day, the Girl Scouts spent about 30 minutes in two different courtrooms, hearing misdemeanor arraignments before Parma Town Court Judge Michael Sciortino, filling in for City Court Judge Stephen Miller; and observing Drug Treatment Court appearances before Judge Schwartz.
Moving to Courtroom 404, Stone explained that in addition to the judges and lawyers, there are numerous other court employees who play a vital role in the operation of the court system. In addition to courtroom personnel, there are front office and back office positions that keep the courts organized and on schedule.
Using a PINS (person in need of supervision) case as an example, Stone assigned the visiting Scouts to various courtroom positions, using the opportunity to explain what a law guardian does, the role of the court reporter, the importance of the court deputies, court interpreter, court assistant and others.
With a prepared script, the girls participated in a short role play about a student who had missed an excessive amount of school. Although there wouldn’t be an actual jury in a PINS case, some of the Scouts sat in the jury box, and were given an opportunity to comment on the evidence. Court Deputy Teresa Madau provided guidance in the skit, and explained the qualifications and duties of a court deputy.
“In addition to the 21 court deputies who work at the metal detectors each morning, there are two deputies in every active courtroom,” Madau said. “In order to be hired as a court deputy, you must pass a civil service exam and demonstrate physical strength and flexibility. Communication skills are also very important. Once hired, there is a 12-week academy training program.”
Senior court reporter Regina Zielke explained the role of a court reporter, and talked about the required training and the advancements in court reporting equipment over the years.
“We had to record at least 240 words a minute to qualify for a position,” she said.
Woods Oviatt Gilman attorney Amy Coté talked about her experience as a Silver Award Girl Scout — and described the path that led her to become a lawyer. Schwartz, past president of GRAWA, also talked about her role as a senior attorney at Empire Justice and the various ways she gets involved in the creation of new laws.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Gail Donofrio, Monroe Family Court, interacted with the girls, talked a bit about her experience as a practicing attorney and as a judge, adding her own reminiscence of being a Scout.
“I remember being a Brownie and a Girl Scout,” Judge Donofrio said. “And what really stuck with me about Scouts was the friendship and learning how to treat others.”
Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Frazee also shared a bit about her career, noting that when she was in high school, career choices for girls were traditionally in nursing, teaching or as secretaries. Providing a bit of background on women’s rights and the region’s rich history relating to women’s right to vote, Justice Frazee also took time to explain the difference between civil and criminal cases.
— Photos by Nora A. Jones