Oregon judge takes heat for allowing SECOND GRADERS to be jurors in hit-and-run case

An Oregon judge is facing heat for allowing second graders to serve as special jurors in a hit-and-run trial that occurred in April.

The heat against Judge Ulanda Watkins is being applied by Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth. Earlier this month Wentworth wrote a letter to a higher-level judge, Judge Michael Wetzel, raising alarms about Watkins’ conduct.

Wentworth wrote in the letter that “a large group of second graders entered the courtroom, presumably as part of a field trip from a local elementary school,” during the hit-and-run trial, as reported by The Oregonian.

The students were reportedly on a field trip from St. John the Apostle School in Oregon City.

Watkins allegedly told the kids they’d help “decide what happened” in the case.

“The second graders were then allowed to sit in the jury box, just feet away from the defendant, and were given notepads, just like an actual sworn jury would receive,” Wentworth wrote.

He added that Watkins even told the students they could interrupt the trial if they couldn’t hear a witness.

“There was no inquiry of either party as to whether they consented to this process or consideration given to the victim who was equally confused by what was taking place,” Wentworth wrote.

Responding to this story on social media, critics said the judge was out of her mind:

But it gets worse. The judge had the certified law student who tried the case, Christa Doerbeck, share her opening statement and exhibits with the kids.

Doerbeck later alerted the district attorney’s office about the presence of children in the jury box.

“Two deputy district attorneys went to investigate and reported what they saw to Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Owen. Owen also went to the courtroom ‘where he observed twelve small children in the jury box as the trial was proceeding,'” according to The Oregonian.

When Owen then sought to bring the matter to Wetzel’s attention, Wetzel reportedly interrupted his trial to intervene.

“It is our understanding that you were then alerted to the situation, took a break from your trial, and removed the second graders from Judge Watkins’ courtroom,” Wentworth wrote.

Another prosecutor meanwhile tried to speak with Watkins about the concerns of the defendant and victim,  but she “refused to address the issues,” Wentworth noted in his letter.

“The reality of the matter was that the issues had not been addressed at all,” he added.

Watkins eventually acquitted the hit-and-run defendant, Samuel Varvara, a result that Wentworth believes was “likely a foregone conclusion under such unusual circumstances.”

“Varvara represented himself in the trial,” according to The Oregonian.

He reportedly faced a charge of failing to perform the proper duties of a driver after an accident.

“He had been accused of damaging the side view mirror of a woman’s car before leaving without exchanging insurance information,” the paper notes.

“We can say with almost 100% certainty that had the defendant been found guilty, his conviction would have been overturned,” Wentworth wrote. “The victim, who is a schoolteacher, felt the whole proceeding was unprofessional and confusing; a conclusion we agree with.”

Wentworth added that while he appreciates Watkins’ attempt to “educate youth about our criminal justice system,” her decision to recruit the kids for trial “injected significant error into a proceeding that impacted the rights of both parties.”

On the day of the trial, Wetzel reportedly emailed Watkins complaining about how he was “receiving some concerns about how the trial this morning proceeded,” according to emails revealed by The Oregonian.

In response, Watkins wrote that she’s “always happy to chat” and then asked him to specify the concerns. It’s not clear whether Wetzel ever replied.

The whole matter was later reviewed by Chief Justice Meagan Flynn, who told Wentworth that Watkins “takes seriously her relationship with the litigants who regularly appear in the courts and her reputation for fairness, as do we all.”

“Flynn attached a transcript of the proceedings to her response, calling it a ‘helpful starting point for a productive conversation,'” The Oregonian notes. “She also said that it’s not unusual for participants in a legal proceeding to ‘have different perceptions of the same events.'”

Watkins was reportedly appointed to her post in 2017 by former Gov. Kate Brown, a rabid leftist. She ran unopposed in the latest primary.

Vivek Saxena

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