Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune
---- — In addition to his duties as Ripley County prosecutor, Ric Hertel is also a faculty member for the inaugural class of the National District Attorneys Association National Criminal Justice Academy at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, Salt Lake City.
The academy “used to be housed in Columbia, S.C. .... About four years ago, federal prosecutors took that facility over completely .... Since then, there has been an ongoing search to find a new facility for state prosecutors to train state prosecutors. It worked out with the University of Utah because we are provided with courtrooms, where prosecutors can participate in mock cases.
“A lot of prosecutors’ offices don’t have the ability to send prosecutors to training, but this is funded federally and is a win-win situation,” he notes.
About five weeklong trial advocacy classes will be held each year. Prospective students fill out applications. “It’s very, very competitive.” Those taking the course have a range of experience from one to three years, so “they’re pretty new prosecutors.”
There were 30 students and nine faculty members participating in the initial class at the beginning of March, he reveals. “In the class I taught, some were in new careers at ages 40-50, and some were 27 and recently out of law school. It was a very diverse group.”
Students receive a lot of hands-on experiences in the courtroom. They give an opening statement, do an examination of a witness and cross examination, question a police officer and have a closing argument. All of this is videotaped. Then “we critique each person and tell them things they are doing well and what they need to work on.
“It’s really painful when you see yourself on tape, but it’s all part of the learning process,” the Batesville resident points out.
“We have actors and actresses come in and play witnesses, so it really simulates a real trial .... They are given information to throw their questioners off in an attempt to be as real as possible.
“Students are required to be in courtroom attire, suit and tie, and are required to be there for every class. They’re expected to be prepared. I know they want to absorb as much information as possible, and we want to point them in the right direction.”
The prosecutor reports, “I went through a class as a student at the academy … One of the faculty members recommended me for a faculty role. A few years after that, I was asked to go through the training” to be an instructor. That was about a decade ago.
Hertel takes his faculty role seriously. “I think it’s something that is important. Getting an opportunity to shape and mold some of the newer prosecutors is a big deal. We take for granted what’s involved in trying cases and the advocacy in the courtroom. It’s not learned overnight. We need to teach these young people methods so they’re doing things the right way.
“I got elected very young. I needed guidance. This organization (NDAA) was there to help .... (and) I made lifelong connections with other students and faculty.”
He adds, “One of my co-faculty members was a supervisor in Cook County, Chicago, with 900 prosecutors. Another was from Los Angeles County, Calif., with 1,000 prosecutors and was head of a gang unit. They’re dealing with the most talked-about crimes in the country, and I’m from Ripley County, and we have three prosecutors.
“It’s daunting and an honor to teach with those people.
“I think giving back to the profession is important,” Hertel says of his role. Being a part of the academy “is something I’m passionate about. I believe the curriculum is set up in a way that gives young lawyers a method to trying cases.”
Diane Raver can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.