Students Go to Court and Jail to Learn

Students from the criminal and business law classes taught by Catherine Tyrie at East Hampton High School sat in on a court session during East Hampton Town Justice Steven Tekulsky’s criminal calendar earlier this month. T.E. McMorrow

East Hampton High School students taking classes in business and criminal law got a taste of the criminal justice system recently, first touring the Suffolk County jail in Riverside and then, on Jan. 5, sitting in at a court session here with Justice Steven Tekulsky on the bench. Their teacher, Catherine Tyrie, who is in her first year at the school after many years in the corporate world, said on Monday that she had always wanted to teach and is now living that dream.

“The students were excited to experience firsthand what they had learned in the classroom,” she said. Several told her after the court session that they were surprised at the speed of the proceedings.

Another surprise was how many defendants they knew personally. That was an eye-opener, Ms. Tyrie said. “There were some young ones,” one student remarked afterward. Particularly jarring, another student said, was seeing a former classmate in court.

 “We discussed the arrest process in class; however, to actually witness someone being handcuffed and taken to jail had an impact on them,” Ms. Tyrie said, speaking of Edwin Puin-Gutama, who was sentenced to 25 days in the county jail in Riverside. He had been convicted of unlicensed driving in the past and sentenced several times, but this was his first jail sentence. One student described watching a woman seated next to him in court who “came out and she was crying.” But Mr. Puin-Gutama himself, like other repeat offenders, got little sympathy from the group. “They should learn,” one teen said.

Several Spanish-speaking students marveled at the speed with which Sandra Ramos-Connor translated, with her inflections matching Justice Tekulsky’s tone of voice. When he issued stern warnings, a defendant heard the same severity of tone, only in Spanish.

After the busy court calendar concluded, students got a tour of the courthouse, with Justice Tekulsky explaining the legal process and answering questions. They also spoke with court clerks and officers.

Whether her students actually go into law or law enforcement is beside the point, Ms. Tyrie said. Their visits to jail and court will make them better able to deal with legal nuances in whatever field they pursue, she said.

One of the students in the group has a legal leg up on the others. Alex Vecchio, a senior who has been interning with Justice Tekulsky this year, will attend the State University at Albany in the fall and hopes to be accepted to a program designed for accelerated graduation in three years, followed by law school. She has no idea what field of law she might specialize in, though. “I’m not sure yet,” she said. “That is kind of why I’m doing this.”