Local attorneys address concerns of students

Local attorneys address concerns of students

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 5:17 pm

By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
Choices and decisions.
That’s what local attorneys have been discussing with area high school students in recognition of National Law Day, which was Sunday.
Union City attorney Tony Maness, who is president of the Obion County Bar Association, organized meetings between his fellow attorneys and students at Union City, South Fulton and Obion County Central high schools last week in recognition of the event.
“I thought it was the best assembly we’ve ever had,” a junior at UCHS said following the session at his school.
Maness, himself a member of the Class of 1972 at UCHS and a practicing attorney in his hometown for the past 35 years, explained his purpose in setting up the sessions, which focused on making choices and explaining the legal problems that result from making poor decisions.
“As part of National Law Day, I thought it would be an appropriate gesture for the local bar association to offer to make presentations in our three county high schools concerning topics and issues which are relevant to the interests and concerns of students. This offer was well-received by all and, hopefully, the presentations will make a difference to the students when they are faced with making daily decisions, the consequences of which can sometimes be devastating.”
On April 25, District Attorney General Tommy Thomas, Obion County General Sessions Judge and former practicing attorney Jimmy Smith and Bill Randolph, an attorney with the district public defender’s office, spoke to OCCHS students.
The UCHS session two days later featured Thomas and attorneys John Miles and Steve Conley. Assistant District Attorney Jim Cannon provided information for SFHS students the following day.
“Life is a series of decisions,” Maness told UCHS students as he introduced the program there. “After today, you should be in a better position to make those decisions.”
After the trio of attorneys provided information about how laws originate and the procedures law enforcement officials must follow in enforcing those laws and some of the penalties that can be used by the courts to punish those convicted of breaking the law, they entertained questions from the students and some faculty, as well.
Specific areas of concern for teens that were examined included underage possession and consumption of alcohol; driving while under the influence of alcohol; possession and use of illegal drugs; criminal issues involving sexual conduct; and legal issues related to texting, Facebook and other social networking arenas. Attorneys also stressed the importance of the rights provided by the Constitution of the United States and urged students to become familiar with the document, while providing examples of the problems citizens who make poor decisions face when their choices involve them in the legal system.
Students were reminded: “You can’t talk your way out of things you’ve behaved yourself into,” and, “You get to choose your action, not the consequences.”
Randolph, who began his OCCHS session by providing examples of some rather harsh punishment meted out to those making bad choices 200 years ago, said he was surprised that many student questions had their basis in concerns about the economy. He tried to provide an overview of the different ways poor decisions could impact a student’s future, including problems with finding jobs or furthering education, having housing applications approved or enjoying the right to vote, holding public office or even engaging in a hunting trip with a firearm. He pointed out how many jobs become unavailable to those with criminal records and noted how drastically simple life decisions can be affected by brushes with the law.
“There were about 100 students there from American History, vocational law enforcement and American Government classes. It was very enjoyable and something we should do every year. We could have talked for weeks about things they really need to know about the legal system. They will walk into a lot of situations where they will be blindsided as adults,” Randolph said.
Cannon, who spoke to high school students at SFHS, said those who attended the event there had been asked to submit questions in advance, as well. In reviewing the students’ concerns, he said he realized their interests covered virtually everything he had planned to cover. As a result, he simply structured the program around responding to those concerns.
“We had about 25-30 questions submitted and they were excellent. They focused on everything from laws that could impact them directly to questions about how the legal system works to interest in careers in the legal and law enforcement arenas. With their prom coming up, students had lots of questions about the impact of alcohol. They also wanted to talk about drugs and the new laws on texting while driving and the use of seat belts. At the other extreme, they asked why some people who are convicted by the courts receive probation and others must serve jail time,” said the attorney, who was impressed by the scope of the questions.
Law Day traditionally does not receive much attention from the public, but thanks to Maness’ determination to provide students with information that can affect every aspect of their lives — and perhaps even save a life — Obion County’s teens “celebrated” it in unique and valuable fashion in 2011.

Published in The Messenger 5.6.11

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