Constitution Day judge
Although it is not celebrated as a national holiday, Sept. 17 is one of the most important dates in American History. On that date in 1787, Constitutional Convention delegates met for the last time to sign the Constitution they had written. Around Kern County, teachers included Constitution Day as part of their classroom curriculum for the 16th, since the 17th fell on a Saturday this year.
One non-profit agency, the Kern County Bar Association, adds extra meaning to the day. Each year for several years, it has donated two books to all the elementary schools in the county on Constitution Day. This year the schools received one about the Constitution and another about the Bill of Rights.
Not satisfied to just have the students read about the Constitution, the association gives added meaning to the day by sending judges, lawyers and other judicial officers out to selected school sites to present the books in an assembly.
This year, they were at San Lauren Elementary, Independence Elementary, Standard Elementary, Thorner School, Pioneer Drive School, Berkshire Elementary, Sandrini School, Noble School and Downtown Elementary. After the assembly, the bar association volunteers remained to read to the children. Some engaged students to ask questions in a kind of informal town hall meeting sort of format.
Kern County Superior Court Judge Steven M. Katz demonstrated to fourth-graders at Downtown Elementary in Bakersfield how approachable and accessible a judge can be. Katz spent more than an hour talking about how the Constitution works in the courts and answering questions. He even gave a personal invitation to the class to come visit his courtroom to see how a trial works. Any question the students had about the law and how the courts work, Katz was ready to answer. Here are some of the questions asked and his answers.
Judge Katz: “Give me the names of two of your favorite entertainment personalities.”
Young Boy: “The Rock.”
Young Girl: “Katy Perry.”
Judge Katz: “If The Rock and Katy Perry appeared in my courtroom they would be treated just the same as a homeless person who did the same. Under the law, everyone is equal in court.”
Young Boy: “Can you arrest people?”
Judge Katz: “No, that’s what the police and sheriff do. When arrested people show up in my court, after a trial, I determine whether they will go to jail or not.”
Judge Katz: “There are two kinds of crime. If you steal a piece of candy, that is a misdemeanor, but if you steal a car, that is a felony because it is worth more money, and you will go to jail. You can still go to jail for a misdemeanor but not for as long as a felony.”
Young Girl: “Do I have to pay taxes?”
Judge Katz: “No, but your parents do. You don’t start paying taxes until you start working, and you cannot do that until you get a work permit at age 16.”
Judge Katz: “I was appointed to my job by a former governor who was a famous movie
actor. To keep my job, I have to be re-elected every four years by the people. Does anyone know who the governor was who appointed me?
Young Boy: “Dr. Phil?”
Judge Katz: “No, actually, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger.”