Circuit Court Judge Garry Reynolds stood in his black robe, offset by the brightly-colored coats and shirts worn by the high school students seated in Courtroom No. 1's jury box and gallery.

He spoke to them about government and the court.

"The beauty of this system is citizens, people like you and I, make decisions that are very important," Reynolds said. "It isn't just the government making these decisions. That's the beauty of our system and it's wonderful because of our involvement."

As part of the county's "student leadership day," 30 students from Umatilla, Hermiston, Pendleton, Milton-Freewater and Athena-Weston high schools took a personal look at county government Tuesday when they toured the Umatilla County Courthouse, the emergency operations center and the county jail.

They began in the courthouse, where Reynolds laid out the types of crimes he presides over, from disputes as small as a $50 debt, to crimes as big as murder. He worked his way up from traffic tickets to misdemeanors to major crimes.

For small claims, if one student were to borrow $50 from another and not pay it back, the pair would come before the judge, he said.

"It would be just like Judge Judy on TV, except you wouldn't be insulted by the judge," Reynolds said.

He gave the students examples of larger lawsuits, of assault cases and of murder.

Reynolds said there had once been two men who were friends but did a lot of drugs. One of them became paranoid after taking the drugs and one night when the friends were in a field, the paranoid man decided he didn't trust his friend.

"He pulled out a gun and shot his friend," Reynolds said. "Whether he committed murder, whether he should go to jail for the rest of his life, was decided at these tables just like misdemeanors, just like violations."

Next, the students broke up into three groups and toured the rest of the courthouse. One group accompanied each county commissioner. The group with Commissioner Larry Givens visited the elections office in the basement, the records office at the south end of the building, assessment and taxation at the north end and the district attorney's office on the third floor.

Deputy District Attorneys Simonne Weyand and Kate Beckwith gave the students the rundown on their office, sitting informally on a table in the grand jury room while students sat in seats in front of them.

Like Reynolds, they spoke about the court system.

Weyand explained how she builds a case by comparing her evidence to a trunk full of Legos.

First, she has to see if there was a crime committed and, if that test holds true, she delves into the blocks. She gave examples, calling eyewitness testimony one color of block and physical evidence another color and a suspect's confession another color.

Then Weyand said she has to look at that evidence and make sure it was obtained legally. If, for example, when the suspect confessed the police hadn't read him his rights, Weyand would have to throw out that color of block.

Then she looks at her Legos again and determines, yes she can still build her case to prosecute beyond reasonable doubt.

If later the defense says some physical evidence is not admissible, Weyand may have to throw out another color of block. But, if she's still able to build her structure, she continues to move forward on the case.

Weyand emphasized to the students she is not representing victims. Instead, she said, she is representing citizens of the state, to prosecute those who have broken laws. Also, she said she's not necessarily out to make sure someone goes to prison.

"We are all out for one thing and that's justice," she said. And that justice is defined by what a jury decides - much as Reynolds had said earlier that morning.

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