YORKTOWN, N.Y. – There are no parades or promotions for Law Day, celebrated annually on May 1, but it has become a tradition for Mohansic Elementary School students to learn some big lessons on this lesser-known national holiday.
The yearly event begins with prominent elected officials and law enforcement officials telling the second-grade students why law is so important in society. That is followed by a mock trial, in which teachers and students play the roles of attorney, judge and jury. This year’s trial was the case of the Three Little Pigs v. the Big Bad Wolf. Specifically, one pig was on trial for cooking the wolf.
In the fairy tale, after huffing and puffing and blowing down two houses made of straw and sticks, the Big Bad Wolf comes down the chimney of the third and final home made of bricks, only to land into a cauldron of boiling water placed there by the pig. After the trial, the students rendered their verdict—not guilty.
Town Justice Sal Lagonia said he was impressed with the kids’ savvy understanding of the law.
“It never ceases to amaze me how smart these kids are,” Lagonia said. “Technically, [the prosecutor] didn’t prove the case, and they saw that.”
Prior to the trial, Lagonia and fellow Town Justice Gary Raniolo taught the children about their courtroom, including the importance of their long, black robes.
“It shows that we’re the judges, we’re the people who are trying to find out one thing—the truth,” Lagonia said. “All we’re looking for all the time is the truth. The prosecutor is trying to prove their case, the defense attorney is trying to prove their case, and somewhere in the middle is where the truth falls in. It’s our job to figure out what that is as fairly as we can.”
Raniolo told the students that being accused of a crime is not the same as being guilty, and that defendants have rights. If a jury does find the defendant guilty of the crime, however, it is up to the justices to determine the proper punishment. Raniolo said they take many factors into consideration, such as the severity of the crime and the background of the guilty party.
The annual event is organized by teacher Adrienne Cusano, whose husband, Gary, an attorney, said Yorktown Justice Court is “one of the best run courthouses in the state.”
“A law does a lot of things,” Gary Cusano said. “It keeps us safe and it helps us resolve our arguments and disputes in a fair way, so that everybody gets a fair result from whatever happened.”
State Sen. Terrence Murphy, stopping at the courthouse before heading up to Albany to make new laws, spoke about the importance of having boundaries.
“We make the laws that protect Mom and Dad and protect your property on the state level that lawyers and the judges implement to make sure there’s boundaries,” Murphy said. “If you go outside those boundaries, there’s consequences, and the consequences end right here in the court.”
Yorktown Police Det. Sean Lewis told the students about the difference between rules and laws. Breaking a rule set by a parent, while wrong, does not carry the same consequences of actually doing something illegal.
“If you do something wrong at home, there’s a consequence, right? Maybe you lose your snack or maybe you don’t get a chance to play with your iPad. If you do something in the community that’s so wrong, the consequence is actually you go to jail.”
Yorktown Police Chief Robert Noble praised the school and the courts for allowing an event like this to take place.
“How special a day is this that you get out of school and you get to come to a real court?” Noble said. “I don’t know how many communities that happens in, but your school and this town is special like that, where you can have a day where you have a little bit of fun, you get to come someplace different, and it’s all about learning, right?”
Following the trial, the students were taken on a tour of the courthouse. Noble also encouraged the students to speak with their Scout leaders about arranging visits to the police department.