Teen Court: Unexpected Connection to Traditions | by William S. Wenzel, Barristers President

William S. WenzelWith the onset of summer vacation, the 2015-2016 Teen Court season has come to a close. The 2016-2017 Teen Court season will begin in August/ September. And while the students are off playing for a few months – remember last month’s article on play? I admit I’m jealous – the Barristers are turning their attention to the many other projects that we do to help the community and bring attention to the BHBA.

But before I lay aside the Teen Court program for a while, I want to relate one more experience:

In prior articles, I’ve discussed my Teen Court at Anahuacalmecac Preparatory School in East Los Angeles / South Pasadena. I’ve mentioned it’s a Native American charter school with a largely Native-American student population. The Teen Court there is overseen by two Native American LASC judges.

I’ve always been impressed by the uniquely high degree of engagement that these high school students/peer jurors have with the Teen Court program. Even among the committed students around LA County, these kids stand out. They bring their personal lives and journeys to bear in questioning and deliberation in a way that I have not seen at other schools.

The final Teen Court of this year was no different – the students took their responsibility seriously and structured the Defendant’s probation in a way that ensured that she would continue her schooling while increasing her exposure to community service and making sure she received some counseling to keep her from repeating her crime.
Once the sentence was rendered, I figured that the day’s proceedings were over. But I was in for a surprise. One of the school’s moderators appeared and began a ritual with several of the older Native American students. Judge Gilbert Manuel Lopez caught on first to what was going on. “It looks like we’re having a gifting ceremony now,” he observed.

Judge Lopez described to us all that for his judicial career, he gives back to his tribe and other tribes by building the big Pow Wow drums for use in Native American ceremonies.

He never sells them, but gives them away at his cost, with the only restriction being that the recipient never sells the drum; if they want to get rid of it, they must gift it.

Judge Lopez then described how sacred giving is a central part of Native American culture. It is a means of giving thanks, bringing the people together, and maintaining the balance that keeps a nation together: keeping individuals in the right relationship with the community.

And now the students of Anahuacalmecac were including us Teen Court participants in a giving ceremony. The students presented me with maize and a bandanna with the school’s sacred emblem on it. They were deliberate and conscious of the ceremony attached.

I was deeply, deeply moved by what I experienced. I hesitated to even share it in this article. But through that gifting ceremony, I was able to see my part in not just the judicial traditions of the United States, but a much older and deeper spiritual tradition. It was an impactful experience.

I encourage you all to take several hours out of your schedule every month to connect with the opportunities that the Barristers provide to aid our community. I can attest to the fact that the rewards are much greater than what is expected.


William S. Wenzel is a business and corporate attorney at The Law Offices of William S. Wenzel, APC. His office serves as outside general counsel for hire and can be contacted at 213 207 6885 or wsw@wswlegal.com.

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