GEORGETOWN — A dozen juniors and seniors from six high schools got a crash course on the judicial system and the inner workings of county government last week.
Visits to Family Court and the Court of Common Pleas, plus a meet-and-greet with Sussex’s leaders, were on the itinerary April 26, also known as Optimist International Youth Appreciation Day.
Lauren Dennis of Sussex Central High School said the gathering with Family Court Judge Peter Jones was moving. “I have been considering a career in judicial, and it was very inspiring to hear his transition from law to judicial,” she said.
Milford High junior Matthew Sacks said he has his eye on prosecuting.
“I want to pursue criminal justice in the future and become a prosecutor,” he said. “To learn different things in Family Court, what is classified (as) misdemeanors, felonies, … all that definitely plays a role in my future.”
Meanwhile, Antoinette Collick, a Laurel High senior, has a couple options.
“Before I got here, I was stuck in between being a prosecutor or a criminal defense lawyer,” she said. “When I asked the judge which one was his favorite, he said criminal defense was because it was the most interesting to him, even though he did all of them.”
Other students who participated in the event, hosted by the Optimist Club of Sussex County, included Emma Byrnes and Sarah Lopatofsky from Delmar; DJovens Moise from Laurel; Aubrey Lynch from Milford; Natalie Carter from Seaford; and Nacesseca Cherazard, Sydney Price, Christina Joseph and Olivia Ferro from Sussex Tech.
Adele Jones, vice president of the club, said the visits went well.
“The kids usually seem to have a very good day. They seem to really enjoy it,” she said, noting there was a bit of disappointment that students didn’t see any trials at Common Pleas because every case resulted in a plea deal.
However, Judge Kenneth Clark Jr. and the defense and prosecution attorneys spoke with students after their cases.
Later, prior to the County Council meeting — which coincidentally included approval of a $1,500 grant to the Optimist Club — students met with Councilmen Doug Hudson, John Rieley, Michael Vincent and Mark Schaeffer, as well as county administrator Todd Lawson, finance director Gina Jennings and county attorney J. Everett Moore Jr.
“I also am majoring in political science,” said Lauren. “It was very interesting to see how government works in the more community-style instead of just an overall legislative view.”
Matthew added that “just knowing the faces of your county (government) basically is very important.”
However, when the students were questioned by council members if they had interest in running for elected office, no one raised a hand.
“We need some young, strong people to get involved in politics,” said Councilman Hudson. “We don’t have enough young people. We want to build a good bench.”
Councilman Vincent, who has served in the fire service much of his life, encouraged the pupils to be involved in their communities, perhaps via Lions, Kiwanis or Rotary Clubs or the Optimist Club.
“What we really need is young people to get involved in a lot of organizations,” he said. “You always need to realize that you need to give back to your community … and be part of the community and give back to help people less fortunate than you are.”
Ms. Jennings, a graduate of Sussex Central, reminded the students that you don’t have to stray far from home for career opportunities. “I’m a local girl. There are jobs here,” she said.
Another piece of advice from council members: If you do run for local office, be prepared to make a full commitment, including with your time.
“This job is not a part-time job. County Council, if you do it right, it is a full-time job. It takes a lot of hours,” Councilman Vincent said.
Councilman Rieley reminded the students that Delaware differs from other states, including Maryland, where county governments provide funding for schools, hospitals, social services, roads and fire service.
“Here … in Sussex County, most of that is done at the state level. It’s more efficient that way. That is the big difference,” he said. “We are noticing people moving into the area from New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, and they expect the county to do this stuff. It’s really not in our wheelhouse. So there is an education process that is constantly taking place there.”
One student’s question widened the eyes of the county leaders: Given the cost of living and wage expectations nowadays, do you believe there may be a change in property taxes?
While Ms. Jennings declined to answer — “This is where I get to be the quiet one,” she said, with a chuckle — Councilman Vincent responded, “Yes is the answer to that. With the low taxes we have, at some point in time, … yes, there will be some change in the tax structure.”