On April 27, 2017, 81 Seabury Hall students and three faculty members boarded buses and went to Henry Perrine Baldwin High School to participate in the Courts in the Community program. This program brought together students from all over Maui to witness the Hawaii Supreme Court address the case of the State vs. Fukuoka. This interactive event comes to Maui on every four years, making it an educational and memorable experience for the audience.
Students of Hawaii are invited to cases such as State v. Fukuoka thanks to the outreach program Courts in the Community, which provides students with the chance to learn more about the government and the opportunity to see cases in action. It involves the State Supreme Court, which consists of Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, and Associate Justices Paula Nakayama, Sabrina McKenna, Richard Pollack, and Michael Wilson.
On October 22, 2014, George Fukuoka was charged with driving under the influence of an intoxicant. The case was dismissed by the District Court without prejudice, meaning that he can be tried it in court again. Fukuoka claims that what he was charged of were petty misdemeanors, the least serious type of criminal offense in Hawaii. The District Court said that although they were petty misdemeanors, the offense was serious because of the danger to lives from driving intoxicated. They said that the gravity of situation was weighed more than the individual charges, according to a transcript from JUSTIA US Law.
“It was eye opening to see what it would be like to be in a real court case,” said junior (and Seabury Tides staff writer) Jack Almeida about how his experience differed from the cases he has seen on television. During the trial in Baldwin auditorium, students listened to each lawyer present their sides of the case. They were then able to take part in a question-and-answer session with the lawyers and another session with the justices after the hearing came to a close.
After the hearing, Justice Paula Nakayama, who was the first woman on the Supreme Court, discussed the importance of judges having to be straightforward and honest, and the significance of outreach programs like Courts in the Community, which not only allows students to watch cases but also brings lawyers to high schools to engage with the students in the classroom.
“It’s important for us to do these excursions and come here. Otherwise, we’ll never see anyone from Maui,” she said.
Lauren Sieberg, a writer for the Seabury Tides and a junior in AP United States History, went to the classroom presentation, and said, “It was really interesting to see what the two lawyers explained to us and to actually see what they were talking about.”
“It’s fascinating, how government works. It’s fun. I would love to see civics classes in high schools for young people to learn about the good aspects of government,” said Justice Nakayama. She has been a member of the State Supreme Court since 1993.
“I think some students found it hard to focus, but I know a lot of students were able to follow it. It’s really valuable to see how our court system works,” added upper school United States history teacher Ms. Kathy Middleton, who joined students at the event and helped to organize the trip.
While the case was not resolved on April 27, the opportunity to go and watch State v. Fukuoka opened the eyes of students in Maui and in Molokai to our legislative system and the importance of upholding the law. The chance to get and watch a real court case was made possible by Courts in the Community, and inspired many students, including myself. This was a unique field trip and Seabury, along with several other high schools, were honored to be able to attend.