The video opens with a tight shot of Judge Kermit Lipez, a federal judge who once sat on Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court.

“The judges of Maine, state and federal, make hundreds of decisions every day that affect the lives of Maine citizens,” Lipez says, “but most of our citizens know little about these judges or their work.

“Judges rarely have an opportunity to explain to the public who they are and what they do,” he says.

“Conversations with Maine Judges,” an hourlong video aimed primarily at Maine’s middle school and high school students, gives Lipez and several other judges one of those opportunities. It features interviews with them about their lives, their work and the court system. Some of the interviews were conducted years ago; others were done specifically for the video.

The video was a project of the Goldfarb Center at Colby College in conjunction with the State-Federal Judicial Council for Maine and the Maine Council on Social Studies. It’s available as a resource to all of the state’s school districts, with a study guide developed by Freeport High School social studies teacher Hank Ogilby.

Lipez, who sits on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, said the inspiration for the project came from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter, who have worked with educators to improve civics education nationwide.

“They challenged judges to help do something about it, instead of just lamenting the fact,” Lipez said. “We thought we would respond to that challenge and try to do something in Maine.”

Lipez was aware that many of Maine’s prominent judges had been recorded on videotape for oral histories that are archived at the Cleaves Law Library in Portland.

“It seemed a shame there wasn’t greater use being made of those videos,” Lipez said.

At a meeting last year of the State-Federal Judicial Council, the judges discussed the idea of using the tapes for a larger project. Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy recruited one of her friends, professor Sandy Maisel at Colby College. Maisel embraced the concept, and he and a Colby student, Jay Mangold, produced the “Conversations with Maine Judges” video.

Dan Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, is among the judges who was interviewed.

Wathen talks about his rebellious streak in high school, and how he was kicked out more than once, and later flunked out of the University of Maine. He emerged from those tough times and excelled in college and at law school, putting him on the path he would take to the judge’s bench.

Wathen said he hopes the video motivates students to maximize their potential, even if they happen to be struggling in school.

“The overall message of the video was, here is an introduction to the legal system through the eyes of people who work in it,” Wathen said. “The other message was that judges are just ordinary people. There is nothing mysterious about this.”

Ogilby, the Freeport High School teacher who developed the study guide to accompany the video, said he plans on using the materials in his government class, called Balance of Power.

“Students have a perception of what the law is, or what the courts are. To see these human beings talking about it, I think it really changes their perspective,” Ogilby said. He is not sure if other teachers around the state intend to use the video and study guide this year.

Some of the judges have told the Maine Council on Social Studies that they would visit classrooms, and Ogilby hopes to take one or two of them up on the offer.

“They are awfully busy, but hopefully we can get at least one of them in the classroom to speak,” Ogilby said.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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