Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The court is in session!

Sudbury Valley’s big drama in November was a trial.

Trials are rare. Almost always, when the Judicial Committee decides, after careful investigation, to charge someone with violating a rule, the person charged accepts the fairness of the process and pleads guilty to the charge. Sometimes, however, the plea is “not guilty,” and that gives rise to a full-fledged trial before a jury of six School Meeting members.

This trial involved one of the most common infractions of the rules - running in the school building. Two thirteen year old students, who in the past had faced numerous charges of running, to which they had happily pleaded guilty, decided this time to plead “not guilty,” and to opt for a trial.

The trial took place on a Friday at 1:00 in the School Meeting room, which was filled to capacity. Seven staff and several dozen students of all ages were in the audience. The defendants were represented by Mikel, and the prosecution team was made up of Sam (A JC clerk) and Jonah. The School Meeting Chairman, Olivia, was the presiding judge. Court records were kept by Emma S., the Law Clerk, and the jury was composed of six students between the ages of 12 and 17.

The scene was pure cinéma vérité. There was tension in the room, expectation, and curiosity. The two sides presented their cases. The main point of contention was whether, at the time and place of the complaint, the method of locomotion by the defendants was “walking fast,” which is allowed, or actual “running,” which is not. The witnesses, called in from a sequestered room and cross-examined by the two sides were: Mimsy, Scott, Emma S., Emma F., Kyle, Brenna, Caleb Elfland, and Suzanna. (Some witnessed the activity, others the accused's description of the activity during JC.) Closing statements were made, and the jury was handed the case. Everyone had to leave, with the jurors, the Chairman, and the Law Clerk being the only ones present during the jury’s deliberations.

The verdict turned out to be a unanimous one of “guilty.”

What was fascinating to me was the combination of seriousness on the part of the participants and the audience, combined with community support for all the people involved. The defendants, as expected, accepted the verdict with grace.