Hertford County Courthouse Hosts Chowan University Students for Courtroom Learning
Chowan University students enrolled in American Judicial Systems visited the Hertford County Courthouse in Winton, NC, on Tuesday, October 30, 2018, where they learned from seasoned professionals in their prospective field.
Dr. Cicely Cottrell, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, accompanied 22 students to observe criminal court procedures and receive valuable education and insight from key officials in a courtroom workgroup. Chief District Court Judge Brenda G. Branch and Chief Superior Court Judge Cy Grant spoke about district and superior court procedures, their experiences as attorneys and judges, and encouraged students to attend law school. Other members of the courtroom workgroup included the District Attorney, Assistant District Attorney, three defense attorneys, and two probation and parole officers.
Junior criminal justice major Christopher Thomas of Louisburg, NC, stated, “Learning about the challenges judges and attorneys face serving a rural area was very insightful.” Judges and attorneys in rural areas serve several counties. They travel to courthouses in different counties throughout the week which comes with financial costs and a sacrifice to personal lives.
Chowan students learned of the severe need for legal expertise and talent in disadvantaged communities. “Judge Branch heavily emphasized the need for students, minority students particularly, to return to Hertford County and serve as attorneys,” said Cottrell. Twenty-four percent of Hertford County residents live below the poverty line and the majority of the population in Hertford and surrounding counties is African American.
“There is a great need for law officials who reflect the community population, and understand cultural differences to better serve those who have been accused of violating the law,” Cottrell explained. According to the American Bar Association, 88% of all lawyers are Caucasian and only 4.8% are African American. Overwhelming statistics support the need for shared identity which helps build trust and minimize potential bias and unconscious bias.
Cottrell earned the Ph.D. in sociology and criminology from Howard University and has extensive professional experience in various sectors of the criminal justice system. Her work is dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged criminal population, particularly African Americans and juveniles with a research focus on racial disparities in school suspension and juvenile delinquency, as well as discriminatory policies and practices in the criminal justice system from pre-arrest to post-release.
Each student expressed gratitude for the opportunity to visit the courthouse. Senior criminal justice major LaTrez Haizlip of Winston-Salem, NC, stated “This was a great experience. Criminal justice is a broad field and there are many job opportunities within a courthouse because everyone plays an important role.” Cottrell was especially appreciative of Sheila Eley, Trial Court Coordinator, for facilitating the visit.