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4th Circuit judges give help with ‘Rule of Law’ project

Judge G. Steven Agee talks with middle school students

Middle and high school students around Virginia are getting schooled in the importance of the law through the Virginia Bar Association’s Rule of Law project. Events this month have exposed students to the unique government lesson in Petersburg, the Charlottesville area and the Roanoke Valley.

The education initiative has attracted top flight instructors. Judges Roger L. Gregory and G. Steven Agee of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made appearances before the young scholars, as well as dozens of other volunteer judges and lawyers who took the time to share their views of the role of law in U.S. society.

“Many students do not fully understand that the rule of law is the foundation, the springhead if your will, of our society and the freedom we enjoy as American citizens,” said G. Michael Pace Jr. of Roanoke, former VBA president and law coordinator for the education project.

More than 70 lawyers and judges took part in the Roanoke Valley event on Nov. 12, appearing in more than 100 middle school classrooms.

In Petersburg, the format was a bit different. Organizers brought high schoolers as well as middle school students to a large assembly on Nov. 19, where they heard from Gregory; Sen. Henry L. Marsh, D-Richmond; Del. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg; and Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring.

The speakers related stories demonstrating the importance of the law and the equality of all citizens under the law.

Also on Nov. 19, 11 Charlottesville area lawyers spoke to civics classes at Buford Middle School and Burley Middle School. Charlottesville lawyer James P. Cox said it’s the second year for the program there, expanding to a second middle school and even to a high school class on criminal law. Students at one school took a field trip to see the law in action at Charlottesville General District Court.

In addition to covering the fundamentals of the role of law in American governance, the classes often involve questions from youngsters curious about what lawyers do. “The students and teachers really appreciate getting the perspective of local lawyers, not only on the Rule of Law but also about the roles of lawyers in general,” Cox said. “The discussion can take any of the twists and turns that come up in the class.”

All told, some 17 local bar groups are involved in organizing Rule of Law projects in their communities this year. Many of those received grants ranging from $100 to $2,100 funded by a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Law Foundation.

In Charlottesville, the local bar association used grant money for textbooks that will help guide students now and in the future.

The project is getting attention from afar. Pace and co-coordinator Timothy Isaacs recently described the program to attendees at the National Council for Social Studies in Denver. The American Bar Association commission on civic education also has taken an interest, according to Pace.

The VBA’s Rule of Law Project is not to be confused with the so-called “Virginia Rule of Law Campaign” established by a Prince William County supervisor seeking statewide support for that county’s tough illegal immigration enforcement policies. The VBA project’s website is ruleoflaw-vba.org.

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