King County District Court partners with students to launch Redmond Youth Court
By Troy Brown, Communications Manager, King County District Court
It all started when Bouke Spoelstra, a high school junior at The Bear Creek School in Redmond, WA, became interested in law when reading Michael Connelly’s novel “The Lincoln Lawyer” as a child. An active participant in a youth court in Bothell working with Bothell Municipal Court Judge Michelle Gehlson, Bouke decided to ask around for any judges in Redmond who might be interested in creating a similar program for teens in that city. Judge Gehlson helped connect Bouke with King County District Court (KCDC) Judge Michael Finkle, who enthusiastically worked with a group of students and others to develop the new court.
After months of planning, Redmond Youth Court launched on April 8, 2019.
Redmond Youth Court is a student-led organization that works with King County District Court to hear real cases of traffic citations issued to 16 and 17-year-olds by Redmond Police, offering them an alternative to the traditional justice system. The cases are handled by youth “attorneys,” a youth “judge” and a youth jury, making it the ultimate “jury of your peers” for teenagers.
“Youth court, after listening to the defendant’s story, as well as the community’s, will recommend a disposition that allows a teen to rebuild in the same community that was harmed, and to see the consequences of their actions firsthand,” said Bouke.
“For those who have received a citation, they will learn to trust their peers, to give back to the community and to be a better driver,” added Judge Finkle. “The trade-off for obtaining a dismissal of their citation is commensurate with their personal situations – neither too soft nor too harsh.”
In addition to benefiting teens with traffic citations and the community, Redmond Youth Court provides high school students with valuable real-world courtroom experience. “Youth court members will learn decision making skills, compassion, how to work with others they do not go to school with, and a little about the law,” said Judge Finkle.
The Redmond Police Department and Redmond city prosecutor also played a key role in getting Redmond Youth Court going. The prosecutor helped shape the eligibility criteria and reviewed all proposed forms, while the police department had at least one representative – usually including a lieutenant – present at every planning meeting, noted Judge Finkle.
Commenting on his career plans after high school, Bouke said: “I’ve always wanted to help people with my work, and youth court has done nothing if not encourage me that I can do that, and more, as a lawyer in the future.”
For additional details, see the Redmond Youth Court page on the King County District Court website.