Hawthorne Elementary School second-grader Cloee Crane hefted the judge’s gavel on Friday when it was her turn to take a seat at the bench.

During a visit to Missoula County Justice Court, Crane and her classmates each had the chance at a view of the courtroom usually seen only by Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway.

“That was really cool,” Crane said after stepping down from the judge’s chair and shifting over to take a seat at the table reserved for defendant’s attorneys.

Teacher Carol Campbell’s class was one of two to visit Justice Court for a field trip on Friday, and Holloway will speak to more visiting students next Friday, teaching kids about the local court process and the judicial branch of the government.

The judge placed signs around the courtroom with labels like "witnesses," "jury" and "clerk," and quizzed the second-graders on what each of them meant. While the class was quick to answer on most, the term "prosecutor" seemed to trip them up.

“It’s the person that’s mad at the person they’re accusing or something like that,” one student said.

The entire class was also placed under the same oath to tell the truth that would be administered in an actual court proceeding.

Holloway talked to the kids about the difference between criminal and civil proceedings, and about some of her other jobs as justice of the peace, including conducting marriages.

“I get to meet people and then I get to tell them they are husband and wife. How cool is that?” she said.

Campbell explained to her class the importance of respecting the law and of understanding that a courtroom isn’t a scary place.

“This is a safe place to come to have your problems solved,” she said.

To show rather than tell, Holloway put Campbell on "trial." While many people look for reasons not to be on a jury, the Hawthorne students were eager to take chairs in the jury box to hear the “evidence” offered against Campbell.

The mock trial ended in a hung jury when Holloway polled the group, with a few holdouts refusing to convict their teacher of an imaginary speeding ticket.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for The Missoulian.