Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Midst all the gloom and doom in the national headlines, local good news items often get overlooked.

For example, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department graduated its 126th academy class of new recruits in late January. Following an intensive six-month course of classroom and practical instruction, 32 men and women traded their red recruit helmets for yellow helmets that signify their passage into full-fledged members of the department, ready to tackle whatever emergency comes their way.

The fire department graduation is an enthusiastic conclusion to an intense training regimen. The Board auditorium was filled to capacity by families and friends of the recruits, as well as senior staff and elected officials. The 126th class distinguished itself by marching to their seats in a sing-song cadence, not unlike a military review. Nine of the graduates are women and demonstrated their outstanding performance by winning three of the four awards given in each class. Kerri Bouse earned the academic award for the highest grade average (96%) in the class; Jill Carroll was awarded both the peer leadership award and the instructors’ award. Corey Diamond also received the instructors’ award for his performance. Four of the graduates were assigned to Mason District fire stations for their first duty rotation.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue personnel are among the best trained and best equipped in the country, ready to respond to any emergency situation. Although you hope never to need to call them, it’s reassuring to know that they are just minutes away to help.

A little known extracurricular program for all Fairfax high school students is the Model Judiciary Program, which held its annual “mock court” last Saturday at the Fairfax County Courthouse. High school students from public and private high schools participated as prosecutors, witnesses, and juries in the morning program. Although not a competition where teams are ranked, the program provided an opportunity for 12 student teams to demonstrate their skills in real courtrooms before real judges.

The case centered around Joe Hunt, a labor union president who was charged with the murder of Mr. Shazo, a rival in his union, the Monkey Wrench Drivers! The melodramatic case involved alcohol, fights, late nights, a gun, and witnesses. The facts of the case were given to the student teams in December, and they prepared their cases with the assistance of volunteer teachers (John Hiltz at Stuart) and lawyer-coaches (Tina Snee, a Stuart parent) who gave them tips about courtroom behavior and tactics. The judges in each courtroom handled the action as they would during a regular court day, issuing instructions from the bench, swearing in witnesses, and entertaining objections from rival counsels. After the cases were concluded and the jury verdicts were given, judges reviewed the cases and the testimony with the student teams.

In Courtroom 4G, the J.E.B. Stuart defense team faced Chantilly prosecution. In a dramatic conclusion, the defense team, headed by junior Chris Zapple, asked defendant Hunt, well-played by sophomore Ebadullah Ebadi, to show how he reacted in self-defense to Mr. Shazo’s attack while he was sleeping. Commonwealth’s Attorney Katherine Stott, acting as judge, said later she was quite impressed by the demonstration. The strong defense summation was well-done by junior Armando Peredo. In the end, the student jury convicted Hunt of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser offense than the second-degree murder conviction sought by the prosecution.

The Model Judiciary Program, now under the special leadership of Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Klein, has been introducing high school students to the law for more than 20 years. Virginia State Senator Chap Peterson (D-34) told the assembled students that the Model Judiciary Program inspired him to choose the law for his career. Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-11) reminded them that, historically in Virginia, the fact that he is Roman Catholic would have barred him from serving on a jury. Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and I were reminded that neither of us could have served on a jury either, due to gender and race. How far we have come!