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East Islip students get close view of federal justice system

U.S. Marshal Dawn Mahoney holds up a fake

U.S. Marshal Dawn Mahoney holds up a fake weapon removed from an unidentified East Islip Middle School student during a mock arrest for transporting stale Pop Tarts at the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The Pop Tart smuggler was busted.

Federal agents searching the suspect’s messy room found all the evidence they needed, including telltale crumbs on the seventh-grader’s face.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen Tomlinson ordered the boy held without bail, noting soberly that Pop Tarts — “filled with sugar and very addictive” — are a controlled substance.

The role play elicited laughs from the more 100 East Islip Middle School students who gathered Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Central Islip.

It’s part of “The Bench in Your Backyard,” a new civic education program that teaches middle school children about the legal system and offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the federal court system.

The program is a partnership between the Federal Bar Association’s Eastern District of New York chapter and Robert A. Katzmann, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The outreach effort hopes to “give students when they’re younger the knowledge and the skills that they need to be good citizens,” said bar association president Dina Miller, a career law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Arlene Lindsay.

Judges told the students about their career paths, the significance of a jury, and the importance of an independent judiciary.

“The fact that we have lifetime tenure is a barrier,” said U.S. District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein. “We don’t have to worry about elections. . . . That insulates our decision from any kind of partisanship.”

Feuerstein said her career path was greatly influenced by her late grandfather, Dr. Samuel Shapiro, who “saw ahead of the times.” Starting more than 75 years ago, he sent two daughters to law school and a third to medical school.

U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, a former public defender, remembered the day President George H.W. Bush called.

“It was delightful. He very nicely asked me if I would allow him to put my name in for a nomination,” said Seybert, who was confirmed under another president, Bill Clinton, more than two decades ago.

After Wednesday’s program, some students expressed interest in criminal justice careers.

“It was interesting to see that there were a lot of people in our community that have such big roles,” said Leah Bloom, 12. “That was cool.”

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