A show that casts pre-teens and teenagers as lawyers in mock courtroom competition is in the market for attorneys and judges to play jurists on television, pro bono.
Farzan Mohamed and Sterling Schepers — who are neither lawyers nor judges — have attracted some high-powered talent as executive producer and marketing director of School Court TV, a public access cable program that airs in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
Guest judges in the show’s first two seasons have included Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Marcella A. Holland, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and attorney Robert F. Dashiell.
But as the show enters its third season, Mohamed and Schepers say it is in need of attorneys and judges to mentor and judge the participants, who range in age from 10 to 18 and play plaintiffs’ attorneys, prosecutors or defense counsel debating civil or criminal cases.
To encourage attorney participation, and to raise money for the project, Mohamed and Schepers are offering law firms naming rights to the trial teams. For $250 per episode, the young participants will announce their “affiliation” with a sponsoring law firm when they introduce themselves at the start of each mock court session.
Attorneys at the sponsoring firms will serve as mentors and coaches to the participants as they prepare their arguments.
Each half-hour episode airs six times per week on public access cable stations, including four times in Baltimore and once each in Anne Arundel and Harford counties, Mohamed said.
“We need attorneys to step up,” added Mohamed, a Baltimore-area auto dealer and real-estate investor who has been footing the bill for the show.
That cost comes to about $10,000 per month, including paying the television station, camera crew, rent and utilities, he said.
“At this point in time we’re looking to break even,” Mohamed said.
Though he would like to see the show turn a profit, Mohamed said the program’s main purpose is to build the youngsters’ confidence and prepare them for a competitive world in a way that pretending to be a businessman cannot.
Putting it in television terms, Judge Judy’s questioning provides a better training ground for life than Donald Trump’s marketing assignments to contestants on “The Apprentice.”
“I own multiple businesses,” Mohamed said. “What we see a lot of times [is that] college graduates can’t hold a conversation.”
The give-and-take with the judges “forces students to think on their feet,” he added in explaining why he started a law-based show. “The idea is to build thinkers, build confidence.”
Gansler, who served as a guest judge last November, said he was impressed by the youngsters who debated whether a necessity defense should prevail for an underage motorist who was stopped by police while driving her injured mother to a hospital. The attorney general-cum-television judge said his goal was to spark a love of the law.
“I want to encourage young talented people to go into the law,” Gansler said. “I’m a huge believer in mentoring. It’s a different form of giving back.”
Despite having played one on TV, Gansler said he “would never want to be a judge. I could never sit still long enough.”
Dashiell, a friend of Mohamed’s, donned a costume robe last December to resolve a hypothetical dispute between a homeowner’s association and a local bar that allegedly attracted killers, drug dealers and prostitutes to the neighborhood. Dashiell interrupted and peppered the participants with unexpected questions to teach them about more than just the practice of law.
“That’s the way life is,” said Dashiell, of counsel at Harris Jones & Malone LLC in Baltimore. “Life hits you with surprises. You need to be able to deal with those things.”
Dashiell added that he stepped down from the prop bench with greater appreciation for the youngsters.
“I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the kids, the competitive spirit and the desire to learn,” he said.
A school-court competition involves opening statements, arguments and closing statements. The judge, at the end of the show, announces the winner and provides constructive advice to the participants.
Victory Davi, who was Miss Allegany County 2011, serves as host of the show.
Mohamed and Schepers said they advertise for their young competitors at shopping centers and malls, where they hand out flyers and use their salesmanship on the children and their parents by stressing the competition’s benefits. Their slogan is “Building Tomorrow’s Thinkers Today.”
Schepers, who is semi-retired, said his involvement with the in-the-red show is “not about the money. It’s just for the love of the program and the kids.”
Shows are taped at the Baltimore City Circuit Court on Calvert Street or Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, when available, or at the program’s television studio in The Brooklyn/Progressive Building in Baltimore. Shows from past seasons — as well as information for attorneys, judges and would-be participants — are available on the program’s website, www.schoolcourt.org.