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Though Patricia Herlihy is still designing promotional materials for the Suffolk County, N.Y., Outreach Program’s second year, she is already fielding calls from schools wanting to bring the courtroom into the classroom. Herlihy, program coordinator for the Suffolk County Outreach Program, said it indicates that the fledgling endeavor is making an impact. “We visited close to 30 schools in over 70 districts on Long Island last year,” she said. “We anticipate that we’ll probably double that this year.” The Outreach Program, launched in May 1999 by Suffolk County Administrative Judge and Surrogate Court Judge A. Gail Prudenti, includes six types of programs designed to connect the courts to the community, particularly students. Herlihy calls upon a core of about 40 volunteers, including judges, court clerks, court officers, court administrators and security personnel, to handle between 20 and 30 speaking engagements a month. “You know that they’re devoted to what they do when decided to give up their free time,” she said. Programs include classroom workshops, court tours, student mentoring programs, career fairs and a teacher “externship” program, where teachers are educated about the courts, so they can educate their students. Herlihy believes Suffolk County’s program is the only one of its kind in New York State courts. Volunteers meet with community groups or students on their own turf. They discuss everything from DWI offenses to home security, from street gangs to the trial process. The project also attempts to bring the public into the courts through tours, student mentoring programs and open houses. The court tours, though not new, are offered more frequently due to increased interest generated by classroom visits. “They want to come in and see what the courtrooms look like and relate it to what was said by the speaker,” Herlihy explained. The most popular program is the classroom workshops, where volunteers speak to students from elementary through high schools on court structure, court jurisdictions and career opportunities within the court system. Last year, Ira Simon, principal law clerk to Acting Suffolk County, N.Y., Court Judge John N. Mullin, spoke to third- and fifth-graders at Burr Intermediate School in Commack about the First Amendment. Simon also helped students prepare briefs and arguments for a mock Supreme Court argument. He will speak again on Oct. 26. “The kids loved it,” said Michele Gunther, a teacher in Commack. “The program opens their eyes to the real world and sparks their interest in law.” Attorney John Iliou, principal law clerk to Suffolk County Court Judge Joseph Farneti, spoke to the entire West Babylon High School, in shifts, last year. Asked to return to the school, his alma mater, for Career Day, he will speak again to students later this month. “The first period, I could see the kids were bored,” he recalled. “But when I set up a situation where I pretended that a police officer had reached into their car and removed something personal and asked them what they thought, the hands flew in the air.” Participants in the Outreach Program are all volunteers, as is Herlihy, who is deputy chief clerk in the Suffolk County Court, a position she has held for 10 years. She was honored last year by Chief Judge Judith Kaye at Law Day in Albany with a certificate of appreciation for her numerous community volunteer achievements.

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