District court comes to high school

A defendant consults with her attorney, Edward Zelenak, during sentencing at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte Thursday.

Photos by Andrea Poteet

Judge Randy Kalmbach sentences a defendant inside Theodore Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte Thursday.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – For a few hours Thursday, the auditorium at Theodore Roosevelt High School was transformed into a real-life courtroom.

The 27th District Court convened inside the school as Judge Randy Kalmbach sentenced actual defendants in front of 11th-grade students as part of his courts-in-schools program.

Kalmbach said the program, which is in its 13th year, is aimed at teaching teens to avoid poor life choices.

“We try to do alcohol and drug cases so they can see firsthand that there are consequences to breaking the law,” he said.

Kalmbach also said he wants to impress upon students at a young age that mistakes on their permanent records can follow them around for the rest of their lives.

“They want to protect their record,” he said. “If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, or go to law school, you can’t have these convictions on your record. We want them to know that.”

Kalmbach got permission from the Michigan State Supreme Court to move the court to the school. He said the program, which travels to middle schools and high schools in Wyandotte and Riverview, also is a convenient way of letting students see the court process.

“We don’t have room for 288 students (in the courtroom),” Kalmbach said. “So we take the court to them.”

Five defendants from the area were sentenced on drug or alcohol charges. The defendants, who were all in their late teens or 20s, already had pleaded guilty to their charges and agreed to be sentenced at the school.

The defendants included an 18-year-old woman who had graduated from Roosevelt last year, a 22-year-old unemployed certified nurse’s aide and a 27-year-old salesman. Sentences included probation and fines for first-time offenders.

The 27-year-old man, who was sentenced for his second drunken driving offense, received 18 months probation.

His driver’s license was revoked for the next year, and he cannot operate a vehicle without an ignition interlock device for 18 months after that. An ignition interlock device requires a breath alcohol content below the legal limit, which is 0.08 percent in Michigan, in order to start a vehicle.

Attorney Edward Zelenak, who represented several of the defendants, told the students to learn from his clients’ mistakes.

“It’s important for you to see how a couple of mistakes can multiply themselves,” he said.

RHS Junior Tyler Tepfenhart, 16, said the assembly helped reinforce his ideas about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

“People just never learn,” he said. “This just tells me that what I grew up with was right compared to this.”