Teenagers are normally warned not to do things that will land them in the presence of a judge and lawyers, but the students in the S.M.I.L.E. Gwinnett program probably wouldn’t be considered your typical teens.
The students spent a lot of time with both judges and attorneys over the summer as participants in the S.M.I.L.E. program, which stands for Summer Mentoring in Legal Education. This year marked the second time the Gwinnett County State Court has offered the program to teens who want to someday become judges and attorneys themselves.
“The program took 25 aspiring lawyers from South Gwinnett, Central Gwinnett, North Gwinnett and Norcross High School and allowed them to spend their summer Fridays with lawyers and judges at the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center,” county officials said in a statement.
The program recently wrapped up with a graduation ceremony, but the teens had a lot to learn during weekly sessions before they reached that point.
Over the course of the summer, the teens took a tour of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center and learned how the legal process works. They met Juvenile Court administrator and author Jaclyn White, District Attorney Danny Porter and Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor to discuss the 1992 murder of toddler Haley Hardwick.
That was after the teens were asked to read “The Empty Nursery,” which is about the murder.
They heard from officials, such as Solicitor General Rosanna Szabo, state Sen. P.K. Martin, Snellville Police Sgt. Rain Nieddu, a panel of judges, Partnership Against Domestic Violence representative Claire Lisco, veteran attorney Rob Greenwald and new Georgia Bar member Erik Provitt.
Each official, or group of officials, talked about different aspects of the law and getting into legal careers.
The students also visited the Gwinnett Detention Center, where they toured the facility and learned about the Sheriff’s Office’s Jail Dogs second chance program.
Some students who participated in the first S.M.I.L.E. program, in 2016, also returned to talk to this year’s class.
“Judges Pam South and Joe Iannazzone of Gwinnett County State Court hosts the program, now in its second year, with extensive help from South Gwinnett High School teacher Rebecca Streetman a program specialist for Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security; and Lead Assistant Solicitor Dana Pagan, a former assistant attorney general and teacher,” county officials said.