Aren’t Bears Colorblind? The trial of Goldilocks at Escuela de Guadalupe.
by Mary Frances Nevans
Is Goldilocks a criminal or an innocent schoolgirl? Lawyers and students who participated in the six week Escuela de Guadalupe "Summer Law Program" set out to find the answer.
The program is the brainchild of school President David Card and Principal Vernita Vallez, who don’t stop worrying about their students, even after they graduate from fifth grade. Escuela de Guadalupe is a K–5 school located at 34th and Pecos.
"There is a tremendously high dropout rate among Hispanic students," said Card, "We have begun a graduate support group to make sure our graduates stay in school and have the support equal to meeting the challenges facing them."
The coaches decided to put on the trial of Goldilocks, making it as close to a criminal trial as possible, trying Goldilocks for burglary, theft and criminal mischief. To the coaches’ knowledge, this was the first moot court program to be conducted with testimony in both Spanish and English (all students are taught in both languages), and involved children of such a young age.
The fourth- and fifth-grade students acted as the jury, while the judges, prosecution, defense and witnesses were "graduates" of Escuela de Guadalupe who attend middle school. Card insisted that the kids be instructed as if they were high school students. The trial notebooks given to the children contained statutes and jury instructions with no modifications. The coaches worked with the students on how to understand a statute. "We have seen time and again that our kids will grasp concepts far beyond their years, if challenged," said Card.
The volunteers who put together the program are thrilled with the outcome. "We are very proud of them," said Ted Borrillo, coach for the defense team. "We are not aware of other moot court programs that involve this young of an age group with this sophisticated level of material executed in two languages."
Before beginning trial preparation, the children met with and interviewed other members of the Colorado Bar who volunteered to be mentors, including Judge William Lucero, Judge Roger Cisneros, Christine Arguello, Luis Toro, Adam Moskowitz and Judge Lorenzo Marquez. These lawyers spoke with the children about why they became lawyers and what values were instilled in them by their families and schools.
In response to the question, "Did you like grade school?" Judge Roger Cisneros answered, "My choice was to go to grade school or pick beans in the fields. I liked school better than picking beans."
"These mentoring interviews were important to our kids," said Principal Vallez. "Many of them can relate to the struggles these lawyers shared in coming from a family where English is not the first language. And like these lawyers had, our kids have the full dedication of their parents to make sure they get a good education."
During the trial, the case took a dramatic turn when Doris Calderon, counsel on the defense team, grilled Baby Bear, 8-year-old Ramona Sandoval, the only eye witness in the case. "Aren’t bears colorblind?" asked Doris. "What?" said Baby Bear. "I said aren’t bears colorblind?" Baby Bear took a minute to think, realizing that she was about to make a big difference in the case, but didn’t know what to do about it. "Yeeeees," she said reluctantly. This question came from Doris herself, not the coaches.
"It’s a humbling experience when a middle-school-kid comes up with a killer cross-examination question on her own," said Michael Melito, defense coach. "We didn’t tell her to say it and didn’t coach her on that issue. The kids are just very bright and catch on quickly."
Daniela Avila, whose mom turned her jet-black hair into a Goldilocks hairdo complete with ringlets and a bow for the role, and Goldilock’s grandmother, played by Ever Hernandez, established that Goldilocks was in fact a good girl and denied that she entered the cottage. In the end, half of the jury believed Goldilocks and her grandmother’s testimony: On the date of the crime, Goldilocks got up, went to school, went straight home after school, did her homework and went to bed. Half of the jury believed the Bears.
The jury deliberated for 45 minutes and resulted in a hung jury. "The analysis was amazing for this age group," said jury coach Monica Marquez. "These kids really listened to the testimony of the witnesses and the jury instructions. They took their job very seriously."
Other attorneys supplied the financial resources for the Student Law Program, including Emily Keimig of Sherman and Howard, Frank Visciano and Luis Toro of Senn Visciano Kirschbaum, Edwin Kahn of Kelly Haglund Garnsey and Kahn, Gale Miller of Davis Graham and Stubbs, and Heather Weckbaugh of Montgomery Little Soran Murray & Kuhn and the Weckbaugh Foundation. The Colorado Bar Association and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association also contributed, as did Las Delicias Restaurant, SuperTarget at Glendale, Farmer’s Engraving, and Sound Town.
After the jury returned its verdict, an award ceremony followed to acknowledge the hard work of the jury and the lawyers. As a special finale, this year’s graduating fifth- and eighth-graders received a letter from Sen. Ken Salazar, congratulating them on their accomplishment.
"The message to the kids of this six-week Summer Law Program was: ‘We believe in you; you are smart, capable and talented children, and you can do what you set out to do,’" said Principal Vallez.
John Sleeman, coach for the prosecution, summarized how the volunteers felt about this commitment. "What if one of those trophies was in the chambers of a Colorado Supreme Court Justice some day?" he said. "One of these kids could point to it and say ‘that’s when I decided to become a lawyer.’"