Someone 2 Know: Judge Janet Berry - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Someone 2 Know: Judge Janet Berry

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"The Second Judicial District in the county of Washoe is now in session," recites a fifth grade boy, dressed in oversized glasses and a khaki bailiff uniform. One the bench sits a young girl with a George Washington-esque wig. The defendant is a wolf; the plaintiff – a pig. See where this is going? Okay, so it isn't your typical trial. In fact, no one in the Department One courtroom is even old enough to sit on a jury. Twice a week, however, fifth graders take over Judge Janet Berry's courtroom to perform mock trials.

When their verdict is read and the costumes come off, the students arguably learn an even more important lesson. "Anybody who offers you drugs, or things that can hurt you, they're not your friend - no matter what they say," says Judge Berry to the students.

The 20-year judge has seen and heard far too many sad stories in her career; many involving drugs and gangs. So, aside from learning about the third branch of government, Judge Berry uses this program to talk to kids about making wise choices. She started the Kid's Court program with her influence as a judge, but the mother's love brought it to life. When her son approached her in 1994 about a project to earn a Boy Scouts badge, they came up with the concept of Kid's Court.

In the nearly two decades it has been in existence, Judge Berry has impacted the lives of hundreds of children in our community. She and her staff work tirelessly to reach kids early. "Because what we've learned is in 5th and 6th grade, kids are being recruited into gangs. Or they feel they have to join gangs for protection going into middle school and high school."

She gives each student a booklet complete with pictures of drugs – disguised as candy – and before and after pictures of drug users. What adds to the impact of this program is seeing living proof of how poor decisions can affect your life. Judge Berry works with the Sheriff Haley and the Washoe County Sheriff's Office to bring inmates into the courtroom to talk to the kids about jail and prison. "We have a screening process to make sure they're appropriate. But these are tough inmates; sometimes charged with murder, attempted murder and robbery," explains Judge Berry.

Their words are powerful. The 32-year-old we listened to in this Kid's Court told the students he started drugs at 12 years old. "Getting high leads you to a one-track mind. I dropped out of school in 11th grade. I didn't get no high school education," he told them.

It total the Kid's Court and Ask an Inmate program runs about an hour. Judge Berry hopes her short time with the students will make a big impact in their lives for years to come. "I think to myself, maybe today this little boy who thought he had to be in a gang or whose teenage brother or sister is using heroine, maybe today because of this program - he or she will make the decision to make better choices."

Judge Berry hosts two to three classes a week and there is a waiting list, but she is excited to report Judge Lidia Stiglich is now teaming up with her to expand the program.

If you are a teacher or parent who would like to get your child's class involved, call: (775) 328-3171.

Written by Kristen Remington

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