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Courting a Greater Diversity in Legal System

July 7, 2018

LOWELL -- Thirty-five girls from the Sullivan and Butler middle schools who recently visited Lowell District Court at the invitation of First Justice Stacey Fortes found themselves with a view of the legal system that they hadn’t ever seen on TV.

Fortes, who took over as the court’s first justice earlier this year, invited the girls as part of the Color of Justice Program, which is run by the National Association of Women Judges, of which Fortes is part.

The program seeks to encourage girls and minorities to consider legal and judicial careers by bringing them together with working judges and lawyers.

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years,” Fortes said.

The girls got to meet and engage in panel discussions with Supreme Judicial Court Justice Kimberly Budd, Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Amy Nechtem, several local district court judges, several local attorneys, clerks, court officers, administrators, probation officers, and even translators.

“There was such a diverse selection of strong women who shared their story. It was empowering for all to hear from them,” said Butler Middle School Guidance Counselor Kaley Dee.

Sullivan Middle School Guidance Counselor Darlene Dandurant said the discussions got several of her students interested in careers in the law as the judges and others engaged the students.

One student is now interested in being court translator, she said.

“I would say that in talking with the students who attended that this program definitely peaked their interest in the possibilities in this field,” Dandurant said.

Dee said the judges and attorneys share personal stories about how they got into the law that resonated with students, most of whom left the courthouse with smiles.

“I have never seen a group of girls more engaged for two plus hours,” Dee said. “They were inspired and enthusiastic about their futures leaving there.”

Dee said the girls even got to tour the holding cells, and that she thinks the experience, which smelled a bit, left the girls sure that they never want to see the inside of such cells.

Fortes said she now hopes to hold a similar event every year.

“It was one of the days in my life when you just feel really good,” Fortes said.

Fortes said the girls had “really interesting questions,” and focused on a female court officer as they asked her what it was like to be the only woman guarding prisoners in the courthouse.

Fortes said an anonymous donor donated books for the girls so they could have some Summer reading, including a book by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

Follow Robert Mills on Twitter @Robert_Mills

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