On Thursday, June 20, 2024, Mail Online reported that an Oregon judge was facing criticism for an unusual incident that took place in her courtroom in April. Judge Ulanda Watkins of Clackamas County Circuit Court had selected a group of visiting second-grade students from a nearby elementary school to act as “special jurors” for a real-life hit-and-run case being heard that day.

The students, ranging from seven to eight years old, were allowed to sit in the jury box near the defendant as the trial proceeded. Judge Watkins provided them with notepads like actual jurors and said they could interrupt witnesses if they couldn’t hear. At one point, she questioned whether the children knew how to write. Further, the prosecuting attorney was asked to give her opening statement directly to the youngsters and share evidence with them.

The defendant, 56-year-old Samuel Varvara representing himself, was accused of leaving the scene after accidentally damaging another vehicle’s mirror. However, with the additional presence of the child “jurors”, he was ultimately acquitted. The unusual decision alarmed staff from the Clackamas County District Attorney’s office, who were not informed or asked for consent ahead of time. They removed the students from the courtroom.

In response, County DA John Wentworth wrote a letter expressing concerns over whether the trial was conducted in a fair, appropriate manner for all sides. Neither party had agreed to involve the visiting children. The victim, a schoolteacher, felt the proceedings became unprofessional and confusing as a result. Wentworth worries the defendant’s acquittal may have been compromised and unlikely to stand up on appeal.

Judge Watkins, who became Oregon’s first African American circuit court judge outside Portland in 2017, now faces questions about her judgment in this situation. As the presiding county judge reviews the complaint, her actions could impact perceptions of impartiality and due process. Wentworth also alerted the state’s chief justice to the issue, suggesting further scrutiny may be warranted.

While Judge Watkins aims to foster an understanding of the law, her unconventional handling of this minor traffic case has instead drawn criticism and national headlines.



Source: Mail Online