Youth Law and Justice Conference brings together practitioners and local students
By Felicia Holloman (3L)
UF Law hosted the second annual Youth Law and Justice Conference on Feb. 26. The daylong event brought more than 70 local middle and high school students to campus for discussions raising awareness of legal issues affecting today’s youth.
Students, legal practitioners, and faculty filled the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom for a welcome by Eugene Pettis (JD 85), the president-elect who will become the first African-American to lead The Florida Bar.
Pettis encouraged students to seek success, whatever their circumstances and hurdles.
“You cannot be afraid to succeed,” Pettis said. “Even if your family is not there to bridge your success, you must not let that define you.”
Pettis also offered a few of his early life experiences as proof, such as overcoming a speech impediment to become a successful trial attorney.
“I was able to reach deep within and grab something that is within each of us. I believed in myself,” Pettis said.
After a motivational opening, students were split into groups and dispersed to classroom workshops. In one workshop, students re-enacted a criminal proceeding. Three students played attorneys defending a student who was arrested for gang activities in a park. Three other students played prosecutors, while the rest of the class was split into witnesses and jury members.
Canaan Goldman, an assistant public defender, presided as judge over the mock trial and offered guidance to the groups.
“You are going to have to figure out what is a ‘gang’ and what is an ‘activity,’” Goldman said.
The proceeding sparked lively debate among the groups and ended with the acquittal of the defendant.
The students also attended a workshop focusing on handgun laws and provided students a chance to discuss their views on how to limit gun violence.
Kristofer Eisenmenger (JD 09), an assistant public defender, reviewed gun laws, particularly weapons that may be frequently used by teenagers. The topic triggered a flurry of questions about potato guns, air soft guns, and even slingshots.
Meanwhile, Caroline Zapiec (2L) educated students with facts about handguns, including that the U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world.
“Every day, about 32 people die due to a gun-related act,” said Zapiec.
Dane Ullian (2L) then presented the students with a hypothetical situation to change the gun laws in a fictional town. Student opinions ranged from allowing open carry of weapons to installing strict gun licensing laws.
The conference was presented by the Josiah T. Walls Foundation, in partnership with UF Law’s Black Law Student Association, Caribbean Law Student Association, Criminal Law Association, Association of Public Interest Law, and The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Law Student Division.