EH High School students get a look behind the scenes in court

Criminal Justice Ed In East Hampton

Catherine Tyrie, second from right, brought some of her students to East Hampton Town Justice Court to experience how justice works in action. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

Nine East Hampton High School students, sophomores through seniors who are currently studying business law with Catherine Tyrie, got a look at a different side of the legal profession Thursday, November 15. That is when they sat through the criminal calendar of East Hampton Town Justice Steven Tekulsky.

The class got a brief look at a variety of defendants, from those facing violation charges of harassment, to one defendant who is facing a multitude of felony charges, and possible extended prison time.

Afterward, the teens spoke with the professionals who make the court clock tick. That included court reporter Gloria Rosante, court translator Sandra Ramos-Connor, a defense attorney from the Legal Aid Society, Matt D’Amato, as well as a social worker from the society, Mayra Mera, two assistant district attorneys, Patrick Fedun and Krystal Matos, the court officers, Gabe Grenci, Dick McKee, and Keith McMahon, and of course, Justice Tekulsky.

During the court session, they heard Justice Tekulsky make his standard warning to defendants before him on misdemeanor unlicensed driving charges: “If you are arrested on this charge again, and you are convicted before me, you will go to jail.”

Justice Tekulsky explained to the students afterward the need for both compassion and judicial certainty. “But the court always prefers compliance [versus] punishment,” he said. He gave an example. “If the crimes are related to an alcohol problem, I would prefer that the person gets help, and is dealing with their alcohol problem.”

Ramos-Connor explained that when she is translating, not only is it done instantaneously, but it is vital that she pass on the tone of the words. If the judge is scolding, she explained, she will scold, too.

The young attorneys gave their educational backgrounds. Fedun and Matos explained that justice, not convictions, are paramount. The two teamed up to convict a defendant earlier this year in East Hampton court on a drunken driving charge, while D’Amato has also had success from his side of the aisle, getting several not guilty verdicts for defendants.

Mera, the social worker, told the group, “People don’t just wake up and say, ‘I’m going to commit a crime.’” It is her job to look at a defendant’s past, to build an understanding of the factors that brought them where they are today.

The felon was the last defendant the group saw. He was told by Justice Tekulsky that the charges in East Hampton against him were being dropped because he had been indicted in county court. He was taken away by deputy sheriffs.

Afterward, the students were given a tour of the facility, including a look at the holding cell. A court officer demonstrated how the steel bars slide closed, with a metal on metal bang at the end. “That is one place you don’t want to be,” a court officer joked. Tyrie’s class agreed.