Nancy St. George brought the action inside the courtroom to students.
As a Legal Studies student at the University of Central Florida’s Cocoa campus, St. George helped found Court Watch Brevard, a program in which students and other volunteers are trained to observe cases involving domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse.
“It really prepares students for the challenges they will face working in the courts on a daily basis,” said St. George, who graduated summa cum laude last year and who will continue her studies and become a lawyer. “Court watching inspires students to focus in on their major and assists them in choosing an area of legal practice they will enjoy.”
Volunteers observe hearings and other legal proceedings and take note of what happens in the courtroom, such as whether a judge keeps order and listens to victims. Court watchers also note if a victim appears safe during a testimony.
Student volunteers major in Forensic Psychology, Political Science, Business and Legal Studies. Many want to work with abused women and children or attend law school. Volunteers also come from Brevard Community College and local high schools. All of them get community service credits toward their degrees. For law school applicants, the program strengthens their resumes.
Since the program launched in 2009, nearly 50 students, including those from UCF, have been trained as court watchers in Brevard County.
“Students involved in the court watch program apply the theoretical knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom to real life,” said UCF Criminal Justice Professor Iryna Malendevych, who helped St. George launch the program. “Having watchers in the courtroom also helps the community. It educates people about the courts and reminds them that they have a voice in the justice system.”
Each volunteer receives nine hours of training on current laws, courtroom conduct and rules, and how to fill out the forms used while court watching.
The Court Watch website, describes the program and is a resource with media stories about cases and laws. It also contains numerous links to related resources and praises lawyers and judges who are strong advocates for women and children.
Eventually, court watchers’ written reports, including suggestions and recommendations for future hearings, will be compiled and shared with the public.
“What we’re doing is an educational program, looking for judges who do fantastic work that other judges can learn from,” St. George said. “We’re looking for court improvement.”
UCF students, professors and the coordinator of UCF’s Faculty Multimedia Center, Ryan Retherford, helped St. George create the site.
Gary Moore, a student at the UCF Cocoa campus, is a former court watcher who helps to train new volunteers.
“It’s a good introduction to the court system and a way to get a good education on current domestic violence laws in Florida,” he said.
To get involved with the program, contact St. George at email@example.com.