On April 8 and 9, 2021, Middle District of Florida Judge Virginia Covington, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe, and federal practitioners from the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, Mindi Richter, David Wright and Ellen Lyons presented the United States Courts’ Program, “Civil Discourse and Difficult Conversations,” to two classes of high School students at Plant High School in Tampa, Florida.
The Civil Discourse program was developed by the US Courts and was presented by the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. The program aims to teach high school and college students about zealous and courteous advocacy and give students more information about the US Courts and pathways to a career in the law. This particular program was presented over Zoom to students in the Constitutional Law elective at Plant High School. The format made it easy to break the program into two segments that each fit inside a class period.
The program took place over the course of two days. On the first day, judges and attorney volunteers spoke about their careers, careers in the law, and gave practical advice. On the second day of the program, 16 students took part in oral argument, either on behalf of the United States or on behalf of a defendant accused of making criminal threats on social media. The remaining students acted as the jury. Plant High School Constitutional Law teacher, Tamara Phillips, had previously taught her students the Elonis v. US Supreme Court case on which the mock oral argument was based, and had assigned the students to prepare mock oral argument before the event, so the quality of the student presentations was quite good.
We received appreciation from the students and a special thank you note from Ms. Tamara Phillips:
This program, that Ellen arranged, was meaningful and productive for the students and me. I sincerely appreciate each person that engaged my students. Each of you were kind and relatable, you may never know the impact that your words leave on a student, but I can tell you that the students gave positive feedback and expressed appreciation for the program and specifically hearing from each of you. All of you mentioned topics that we've studied in class, and it was good for my students to hear real-life connections to topics they've only heard in a lecture or read in a textbook. I acknowledge how busy you all must be, so my students and I are grateful for the time you carved out for us and this positive learning opportunity. I look forward to future presentations, perhaps in person.
The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Federal Bar Association is grateful for the time of Judge Virginia Covington, Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe, Ms. Richter, Mr. Wright and Ms. Lyons. We look forward to resuming in person mock oral arguments in the next school year.