Known for his no-nonsense style on his television show, Judge Joe Brown did not disappoint the crowd at the Boys and Girls Club of Hilton Head Island on Monday afternoon.
Brown gave a brief talk to youngsters, visitors and staff. The star of "Judge Joe Brown" visited an afternoon mock trial, a program designed to teach children and teens who have violated club rules about the legal system and try to keep them out of trouble.
Brown urged club members to stay on track with their education and said the Boys and Girls Club was the place for them to get a "sense of belonging to the community."
"You need to know how to behave and this is the place to learn that," he said to loud applause. "If you neglect to do something you're supposed to do, or do something you're not supposed to do, you should feel bad. Where I come from, it's called being guilty."
Brown watched as youngsters who had been accused of breaking a rule at the club sometime during the past month were tried by a seven-member jury of teen club members. Children also act as defense attorneys, bailiffs and court reporters, while staff members prosecute the cases and a retired attorney volunteers as a judge, said branch director Joyce Wright.
"They have to be a teen to sit on the panel, and they also have to study the cases to know what the details are," Wright said. "The students have a part in the decisions. It's been very beneficial."
She said the monthly program that started this spring has cut down on the number of incidents at the club.
"When we started out, we had about 20 cases per month; now, we barely get two or three," she said. "It's making a difference because the kids don't want to come to court. They're very embarrassed to come in front of their peers."
Monday's three trials included a case in which a 13-year-old had been disruptive during a guest speaker's presentation at the club. After deliberating for about five minutes, the jury came back with a guilty verdict. The boy was sentenced to write letters apologizing to the two staff members and the guest speaker and to five hours community service at the club.
During the second trial, volunteer judge Mike Briggs told the defendants about their rights and defined legal terms like "culpable" to the jury. Briggs said he hopes the program is successful in teaching the club's members how serious the legal system can be.
"It's not quite scared straight, but we hope it teaches them about how the system works so they can learn to stay out of it," he said. "If we can keep a few children out of the system, then we've succeeded."