Many of the Santa Clarita Valley’s greatest legal minds gathered together Thursday evening to honor students from the William S. Hart Union High School district as part of the fifth annual Scholars and Bench Night.
Hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association, the event recognized the top three contestants who competed in the association’s fifth annual High School Speech Competition April 19.
“The Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association acts to be a positive example in our community and educate our community on the legal profession,” said Samuel Price, president of the SCV Bar Association. “The mission falls into two categories with internal focus on our members and external focus on our community.”
Thursday’s event demonstrated these two mission focuses with a presentation from Assistant Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile about the current and future state of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“We wanted to do something that was more engaging with the Hart District specifically,” said Jeff Armendariz, community outreach chair of SCV Bar Association. “I thought what a great way to bring together attorneys and students that maybe thought about a legal profession or wanted a public speaking opportunity.”
Each year, junior and seniors in the Hart District create speeches based on legal topics like immigration and gun control for the competition. The students then present the speeches before Los Angeles Superior Court Judges, who are also residents of the Santa Clarita Valley, in the hopes of winning one of three scholarships.
“It’s been really rewarding,” Armendariz said. “Over these last five years we’ve given over $10,000 in scholarships to 15 students.”
This year, 16 students prepared and presented speeches about the confirmation process of the U.S. Supreme Court justices.
“I was interested in the topic because I think it’s something really relevant today with the recent appointment of the judge on the Supreme Court,” said third place winner Grace Lin, a junior at Academy of the Canyons. “The idea that there is a scholarship behind it was nice too.”
Lin and first place winner Pierce Monahan, a senior at Canyon High School, shared their winning speeches during the Scholars and Bench night and discussed party lines, committee hearings, special interests groups, voting, the role of the president to adequately vet potential justices.
“In order to prove that the vetting process is indeed adequate we’ll look at the role of the president and the role of the legislative branch,” Monahan said as he recited his speech from memory. “Both the executive and legislative branches work together to vet the Supreme Court justices demonstrating the system of checks and balances in the government.”
Armendariz also shared a note from second place winner Jong Hak Won who could not be at the event due to his senior awards night at West Ranch High School.
During Brazile’s presentation, he shared information about the county and state’s judiciary budget, the courts’ loss in funding, the increase in case inventory for different branches of law, the expansion of other courts within the county and the court’s new case management systems.
“In the governor’s May Revise, the increase for the trial courts remains $0,” said Brazile, the second highest-ranking officer in Los Angeles County, of 2017-18 State Budget.
Brazile also shared good news, noting that the county is planning on adding nine judges to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in the coming weeks and that some judges are tentatively scheduled to move to the Spring Street Courthouse in December.
At the end of the event, Armendariz presented an award of recognition to Canyon High School teacher and speech and debate coach Cindy Wilken and presented scholarships to the student competition winners.
Vicki Engbrecht, superintendent of Hart District, also expressed her gratitude to the SCV Bar Association and the judges who took time out of their schedules to help with the annual High School Speech Competition.
“We’re so proud of all of our students but Pierce and Grace those speeches are outstanding,” Engbrecht said. “Thank you so much to the judges who took time out of your busy evenings to select the student winners.”
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