Sunday, May 9, 2004

Court reporter Lori-Anne Alves, as the tortoise, Master Sgt. Rodney Wilson, as the rabbit, Capt. Kristin Coccaro, defense counsel, and "bailiff/student" Cameron Vann have a laugh during trial. Air Force lawyers were holding a mock court-martial of the tortoise from the story "The Tortoise and the Hare" for sixth-graders at Mokulele Elementary School, as part of Law Day observance.


Hickam's JAG attorneys let Mokulele
students judge Tortoise vs. Hare

The Air Force has given a new twist to "The Hare and the Tortoise" from Aesop's Fables.

Sixty sixth-graders at Hickam Air Force Base's Mokulele Elementary School recently were given the opportunity to decide in a mock trial whether the tortoise cheated when he beat the hare in the race.

The exercise was part of the 15th Airlift Wing's Judge Advocate General commemoration of Law Day.

Maj. Owen Tullos, one of Hickam's 11 JAG attorneys, said President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Law Day in 1958 "not only to celebrate our freedoms, but also to encourage people to get familiar with their legal system." In 1961, Congress designated May 1 as the official date for celebrating Law Day.

"This year's Law Day theme was to win equality by the law," he added.

The story also was fitting this year because May 17 is the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case, Brown vs. the Board of Education, which ended racial segregation of American public schools, Tullos said. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case has been called one of the most important legal decisions in the history of the United States.

Puanani Akaka and Kyra Bandoy have a laugh at the rabbit.

Services provide by Hickam's JAG officers range from preparing powers of attorney and wills to holding courts-martial for crimes like murder, rape and burglary and reviewing contractual and environmental issues. Last year, Hickam attorneys participated in 16 court-martials. The office is staffed by one civilian and 10 military attorneys, 15 paralegals, court reporter and volunteers.

For the past three years, Tullos and other Hickam lawyers have used children's classic fairy tales such as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and the "Big Bad Wolf and The Three Little Pigs" as part of their Law Day classes.

"Goldilocks was accused and convicted of stealing and trespassing in the bears' house," Tullos said, "while the wolf was placed on trial for destruction of property -- the homes of the three little pigs."

"The theme with the 'Hare and the Tortoise' was merit. It's important to work hard. It's important to do your best.

"The reception we got has been great," he added. "When we started with Goldilocks three years ago, we only visited Mokulele. Then Nimitz Elementary School asked for a performance. This year we're also including Hickam Elementary School. It's been fun.

"Since we started this exercise, we must have performed for 500 to 600 kids each year.

"Many of the kids have been with us since the beginning. Last year, we introduced them to the idea of a bailiff and this year when the hare started to act up, the kids called on the judge to get the bailiff to keep order."

Santana Harris raises her hand to ask a question of the rabbit.

With Air Force Capt. David Voltz dressed up in the black robes of a judge, the mock trial pitted tortoise (court reporter Lori-Anne Alves) who was accused of cheating to win the race, against the hare, portrayed by Master Sgt. Rodney Wilson with a lot of attitude. The library at Mokulele Elementary was transformed into a courtroom.

Before the mock trial began, Tullos told the jury of 60 Mokulele sixth-graders that their decision shouldn't be based on "whether you like somebody, but on the evidence."

He explained that a judge was like "a referee."

"Every trial in America has this set up," Tullos said, pointing to his courtroom with the tortoise and her defense counsel, Capt. Kristen Coccaro, sitting on one side and the prosecutor, Capt. Taralynn Olayvar, on the other and the judge in the middle.

"There is a judge to keep things fair and a defense attorney and prosecutor. But not all countries are like that. In some places, the prosecutor and the defense attorneys are the same person."

Then it was off to the races.

The prosecution's first witness was Mr. Monkey (Tech. Sgt. Daniel Kazumur) who testified that when the hare started the big race he "shot off like a bullet."

"The tortoise was so far behind," said Mr. Monkey, who also was covering the race for his paper, "that when I caught up with Mr. Hare and got a picture, Ms. Tortoise was so far behind that she looked like a dot."

Next up was Mrs. Lion (Airman 1st Class Amy Blake), who ran the "Lick Your Chops Fast Food Shop" near the finish line. Mrs. Lion said at one point in the race, the hare was found lying under a tree. "I think the tortoise knocked out the hare," Mrs. Lion said.

When hare took the stand he said "it was silly for the turtle to challenge me to a race since I am such a good-looking guy ... I never saw the turtle pass me at all."

But defense attorney Coccaro got hare to admit, under cross-examination, that he stopped to poise for pictures for Mr. Monkey, stopped to eat lunch and that he did take "a cat nap."

Tortoise, in her testimony, said that she had known hare for a long time and "they were really good friends," except that he always doesn't do his best and she knew that "he would mess up."

After polling the jury, Voltz determined that tortoise did not cheat and was not guilty and won because "she just kept on running and doing her best."

Sixth-grader Puanani Akaka agreed with the judge, adding: "I think the hare is guilty because he ate and just laid there and went to sleep."

"The key is not to talk over the heads of the kids," said Tullos, who acknowledges that he gets help from his wife who teaches elementary school. "Be informative. Make it age appropriate and make it fun."


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