Madeline Bisgyer: New perspective on justice

Like many of my peers at the Sheridan Japanese School, my bus stop used to be the Yamhill County Courthouse. I would feel uncomfortable when I had to wait there, so close to the jail, with people who didn’t look like me. I didn’t understand how the courthouse functioned. Now, I walk right in, smiling at anyone I pass and chatting with the friendly security guards stationed at the metal detector.

This past semester I had the opportunity to intern once a week at the Yamhill County Courthouse with Judge Cynthia Easterday. The opportunity has helped keep me engaged and stimulated through a year of senioritis, and opened my eyes to one of the many hidden gems of my community.

Before I started, I had obscure, vague ideas of what the judicial system did, supported by overdramatized TV shows and a lack of first-hand experiences. I had a narrow judgement of the county’s politics that cloaked how I saw the whole system. Now, I no longer see it as a system, but rather as a group of dedicated people working tirelessly to make the inevitable reality of disagreement and misconduct a little more manageable.

Guest Writer

Madeline Bisgyero is a senior at the Sheridan Japanese School. She is looking forward to attending college next year and pursuing her passion for social justice, dance and community service.

On my first day with Judge Easterday, I sat in on School Truancy Court, a program that seemed simple and very helpful for families whose children were not going to school. When I talked to Judge Easterday about it afterward, I was surprised to learn that she started this program. I left that day in a bit of awe, surprised that this program wasn’t happening everywhere. As my internship continued, I kept experiencing this same wonder at what my county was doing, and how dedicated and passionate the people working for it were.

Watching what Judge Easterday takes on every day was inspiring. I saw her take on the role of a teacher, using leading questions to guide children in School Truancy Court, to hasten questioning from attorneys, and to help a 90-year-old woman through a guardianship hearing. When she sits looking over the courtroom, Judge Easterday’s concentration is unbreakable, aware that for many of her cases, she holds lives in her hands. Trials without juries are entirely for her to decide. Being responsible for such a large decision is unfathomable to me, but for her it is just another part of her day. From property line disputes to child custody cases, she inhales the facts and exhales a verdict. I found the main goal for many working in the courthouse was not to chastise people for what they did, but to frame their time in detention, on probation, or in court, as a time to change their mindset. Judge Easterday says her reason for being a judge is to guide people through conflict and teach people to deal with life’s problems, instead of hiding from them, so that they can be in a better place afterward.

Dana Carelle, Juvenile Probation Manager, uses her life experience to work with youth and their families to eliminate thinking errors and bad habits that can hurt others. During a tour of Juvenile Detention, the staff was happy to show me a bulletin in their office where they post the success stories of youth they have worked with, youth that still contact them and thank them for the positive influence they had on their lives. Because these people are doing that, they are changing lives.

Five months ago, I had no idea what happened in the courthouse. As Carelle would say, “I stood on the bridge of assumption, looking into the land of misconception.” When I considered prosecution, I pictured a list of punishments or sentences to pick from no matter the severity of the crime. Instead, I found devoted staff who treated each case differently.

In the District Attorney’s Office, Deb Bridges and others walk every victim through the process of creating a unique settlement proposal that they are comfortable with. In Juvenile Detention, staff treat each youth as an individual, molding their treatment toward what will be most beneficial. Before each specialty court, a committed team meets to discuss the progress of each participant, and propose future steps.

Yamhill County has led the way in bringing problem solving approaches to the courts, largely thanks to Judge John Collins. There are several specialty courts similar to School Truancy Court, such as drug and mental health courts, meeting weekly to hold individuals accountable and give them a support system of sponsors and peers dealing with similar challenges. Our county excels when it comes to these specialty courts, Victims’ Services and cooperating with the Health and Human Services Department. Several programs and partnerships were pioneered in Yamhill County and spread throughout the state.

Of course, not all my doubts were reassured or my questions answered. In School Truancy Court, I watched with concern for children in a foster family that didn’t seem much better than their birth family. I talked with Alexis Bishop, a defense attorney, who discussed the roles of generational poverty, politics and sentencing guidelines used by the system that create long prison sentences. I heard stories from Judge Easterday of cases where she had to rule against her better judgment because of how laws were written. And despite Dana Carelle’s huge volume of “Criminal Law and Order,” interpretation of the law seems to change constantly.

But I ended by internship hopeful, knowing the courthouse is filled with great people who only want the best for everyone who passes through. I have witnessed this first hand and, thanks to these people, a window has been opened to me into a world I never before understood.

I encourage other high schoolers to find what might interest them and ask about an internship. If that’s too much, ask about a job shadow or an informational interview. And for anyone, no matter your age, sit in on a trial or a specialty court. You don’t have to be the accused, the victim or be called for jury duty to see what happens in the courthouse and gain a better understanding of our local justice system.




Thanks for your fine expression of what you experienced during your internship. After college I hope you find a way to continue to contribute your energy and ideas to Yamhill County's future. Thanks also to the courthouse staff for supporting an internship program.

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable