Merit Badge College
Scouts go to court for merits
A group of area Boy Scouts made an appearance Saturday morning in Webster County Magistrate Court in front of the Honorable William Habhab.
But none of the Scouts were there for an initial appearance.
They were there, instead, to learn about how the court system functions by seeing it in action first hand.
By doing that, they also fulfill the requirements for the Scout Law Merit Badge.
The field trip to the Webster County Law Enforcement Center — where Magistrate Court is held — was one of many sessions for a variety of merit badges as part of an all-day Merit Badge College in Fort Dodge.
For the Scouts visiting court, their first experience was watching defendants make their initial appearance on a variety of charges — from one was as serious as a class D felony to a case of a dog running loose.
Assistant Webster County Attorney Hans Becker spoke to the Scouts after court adjourned.
“This is the first step of the criminal justice system,” Becker told them.
He explained that his job includes advising law enforcement on the proper charges to file, being on call and later, as a case progresses, helping steer defendants into treatment programs or Drug Court.
Several of Saturday morning’s defendants had already been released on bond.
Magistrate Habhab filled the Scouts in on the process.
“When someone is arrested, there can be a bond requirement,” Habhab said. “If they can’t post the bond they stay in jail until their case.”
The court ensures that defendants also have legal representation.
“The Supreme Court has said that when someone is facing incarceration they’re entitled to a lawyer,” Habhab told them. “A lot come in for charges where they’re not facing jail time, though.”
For those cases, when the defendant hadn’t posted bail, they appear on the closed-circuit TV system connected to the jail on the third floor.
Habhab told the Scouts that he likes the system.
“Before, everybody was marched in in their jail suits and usually cuffed,” he said. “It’s more efficient, safer and court moves much more quickly.”
The system also satisfies the constitutional requirement to be present at any and all court actions related to one’s case.
“Being present on a video lead is acceptable,” Habhab explained.
For any of the Scouts contemplating a career as an attorney, Becker let them know the path ahead.
“You have to finish high school, then apply to college. Once you have a four-year degree, you can take the LSAT — or the Law School Admission Test.”
Then it’s on to law school for three years and, once that’s completed, taking the bar exam.
“After all that,” Becker told them, “you’ll be sworn in as a lawyer.”
Of course, no court session is complete without a bailiff.
Webster County Sheriff’s Deputy Brett Knippel served in that role Saturday.
“My duties here this morning, besides being a road deputy, is serving as a bailiff for the court,” he explained.
Those duties include helping out with the paperwork, protecting the judge and serving as security for others in the courtroom.
“I’m here to protect you too,” he told the Scouts.