Well, Monika Stidham, the LaGrange County Teen Court judge, that is. Stidham, 17, is a junior at Lakeland High School and the daughter of Roy and Elaine Stidham of LaGrange. She is serving her second term as judge for the teen court.
LaGrange County Teen Courtbegan in May 1995 as collaboration between Circuit Court Judge J. Scott VanDerbeck, the LaGrange County Prosecutor’s office, and the Division of Family and Children in LaGrange County. The program is currently under the supervision of Judge VanDerbeck.
The court is comprised of students from Lakeland, Prairie Heights and Westview high schools. The positions of jury, jury foreperson, prosecutor, bailiff, and judge are entirely made up of students who volunteer their time and receive training under the supervision of Lakeland Alternative School instructor Amy Garl.
“She is great and has done a magnificent job serving her peers,” Garl said of Stidham.
Stidham has been a part of teen court for the last four years. “It is something that I love doing. There is nothing that I would rather do than work with teens,” she said and expressed the heart of her underlying desire. “There was always people around, others that helped me when I was younger – my parents, teachers, people from church.”
Stidham heard about teen court from a classmate. “He had been on teen court and told stories of all the fun he had. He suggested I try it and I just kept going back,” she explained. “We see a lot of cases involving fighting with students in the middle and high school. Some other problems that come up are theft, truancy, and alcohol and tobacco use. All the students are already guilty. The attorney’s job is to figure out why the defendant did what they did and how to prevent it from happening again. A jury of their peers decides on the punishment.”
Sentences normally include a combination of community service, apologies, essays, and service as a teen court juror. The defendant has 45 days to complete the sentencing requirements.
“Volunteers for teen court are trained to sit on the jury. They can receive more training to serve in other capacities, such as attorney, judge and etc.,” Stidham added.
Defendants referred through the LaGrange County Juvenile Justice system are only given one chance (as a juvenile) to utilize the teen court program. Defendants utilizing teen court through the probation system who do not complete sentences are referred to the probation department for corrective action.
After graduation from Lakeland as a high honor student, Stidham hopes to seek a degree in radiology or psychology, and is already looking at colleges.
She also tutors high school students in all subjects, which is something she has done since the seventh grade. This is her second year on the National Honor Society and she will be serving as its president next school year. She has also helped with the disabilities awareness walk at Lakeland the past three years.
“We are so proud of Monika,” her mother, Elaine, said.
“Monika is a real good kid and likes to do for other kids. She is wiser than her years. We can’t go to the grocery store without being stopped by someone telling us how great she is,” added Monika’s dad, Roy Stidham.
Monika recently attended two conferences – Senator Richard Lugar’s Symposium for Tomorrow’s Leaders and Molecular Medicine In Action for cancer research at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
Stidham added that she hopes to take some summer courses on the honor college level.