As part of Respect for Law Week, the Merrill Noon Optimist Club held its fifth Law Fair at Prairie River Middle School Friday. Held every third year, the Law Fair brings representatives of all aspects of the law to directly interact with middle school students. The first Law Fair in 2000 won an Optimist International Award for civic programs.
Students heard a short kick-off speech by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson before circulating among exhibits and interacting with participants in the field house. Participants included local law enforcement and judicial officials, State Patrol officers, U.S. Marshalls, and representatives of state and federal legislators.
Abrahamson, who became the first woman to be appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976, has been chief justice since 1996. She told the students that all of the careers on display at the Law Fair are open to all of them, girls and boys alike.
“The world is open to you,” she said. “Prepare, and go for it.”
This year’s theme for Respect for Law Week was “No courts, no justice, no democracy.” Abrahamson explained that the courts provide a place for people to go to settle disputes peacefully according to the rules of law.
The booths in the field house represented the U.S. government, the state government and local government.
“All apply the law in a fair, neutral and non-partisan way,” Abrahamson said.
David Collins, retired Superintendent of the State Patrol, said the Merrill Optimist Club does a great job organizing the Law Fair.
“They have set the benchmark pretty high,” he said. “I’ve been to lots of events and this is really a well-run program. The students get an understanding that we live in a good society with a safe environment, and they get to meet a lot of the men and women who work behind the scenes.”
The students are also exposed to a host of possible career choices.
“It gives them a chance to reach out for potential careers,” Collins said. “It’s not too early for them to start thinking about that.”
U.S. Marshall Dallas Neville found himself talking to some students with a keen interest in federal law enforcement. He encouraged them to pursue a degree in criminal justice and keep a clean record.
“Anybody can do whatever they would like to do,” he said.
Neville also congratulated the Merrill Optimist Club on organizing the Law Fair.
“To have such a significant event in this community is impressive,” he said.
Respect for Law Week started with J. Edgar Hoover in 1965. Previous kickoff speakers for the Merrill Law Fair have been State Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley (2000), State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager (2003), Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent David Collins (2006), and State Senator Jim Holperin (2009).