The Randolph County Courtroom will transform into the people's courtroom come Thursday.
Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong has announced that the courtroom - located on the second floor of the Randolph County Courthouse - will serve as the setting for the third annual People's Law School.
The People's Law School is a series of free weekly lectures on a variety of law-related topics that will span six consecutive weeks starting Thursday. Classes will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. each Thursday night through Feb. 28.
This year's law school will feature 15 local lawyers, all five Randolph County probation officers and the county's three magistrates, all of whom have volunteered their time to either offer instruction or moderate programs. Subjects of discussion will be drug courts and drug abuse; criminal law; elderly law/will and estates/end-of-life planning; family law; land rights, including surface and mineral; and abuse and neglect.
For the first time this year, the People's Law School will stage a mock criminal trial, Wilfong said, and drug courts and drug abuse are other new addition she believes will be both relevant and beneficial to participants.
"People have a lot of questions about drugs," Wilfong said in a recent interview with The Inter-Mountain. "They want to know, 'how do I know if my kid is using?' Not everyone knows what suboxone is, what meth is, what crack is, what heroin is. They don't necessarily know bath salts aren't Calgon."
Panelists and moderators will be able to supply answers to some of those questions free of charge, thanks to the Randolph County Commission's willingness to sponsor the People's Law School. The commission's support means participants won't be charged a registration fee.
"Our commission is very proactive when it comes to community education and outreach, and I appreciate the support I receive from them," Wilfong said.
Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor called the People's Law School "a tremendous service to the citizens of Randolph County."
"The commission appreciates the great job Judge Wilfong and her staff does of putting on the program," Taylor said. "It is admirable that so many attorneys donate their time to this worthwhile project."
In fact, the opportunity to talk candidly with attorneys has been many participants' favorite part of the People's Law School in the past.
"One of the main things is the interaction with the lawyers," Wilfong said, noting the distinction between general legal information - which participating attorneys will be sharing with their audiences - and specific legal advice, which they will not give.
"I think they (participants) also like that the courtroom is open to them and resources are being made available to them," Wilfong added. "It's a way their courthouse can be used for their benefit."
Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker said the People's Law School allows participants to glean information about the particular areas of law in which they're interested.
"The People's Law School is a very good program for the community because it allows Randolph County citizens the opportunity to learn about their judicial system and gain knowledge about specific areas of law that are of interest to them," Parker said. "Having previously served as a presenter, I always enjoy the opportunity to present information to the attendees and respond to questions about the criminal justice system."
Dinner will provided during a break mid-way through each session. Seating is limited, so interested residents are encouraged to pre-register for any or all of the sessions by calling Owen Harnett at Wilfong's office at 304-636-3815.
"We are hopeful the public will again take advantage of these classes," the judge said. "There are so many lawyers lined up to give their time and knowledge, free of charge, to assist in educating others in the law."