Luke Wareham straightens his tie and suit jacket as he walks Ringling Boulevard, his long legs taking impressive, lengthy strides. Sporting the green suit he often wears to Teen Court on Wednesday evenings, Wareham wipes his brow in the heat.
One year ago, Wareham had no knowledge of law — but he did have to complete 50 community service hours to meet Riverview High School’s requirements.
“I got involved with Teen Court through friends who told me how great it was and that it really has an impact on other people’s lives,” Wareham said. “I’m very concerned with changing others.”
Most teen attorneys attend orientation and shadow an attorney twice before they can work on their own, then volunteer Wednesdays for approximately three hours. Wareham discovered a passion for the field and took to practicing as a prosecuting attorney alone. He says he likes working with teenagers because they possess a similar mindset.
“I realize what’s going through their heads,” Wareham said. “I can help them realize what they’re doing is wrong. Adults, you can’t mold them. But teen-to-teen, you can change their ideas.”
As a senior attorney, Wareham mentors the younger attorneys and takes responsibility in the courtroom by making sure it runs correctly and everyone follows procedure. The only adult present is a judge, who reviews cases, signs legal paperwork and logs hours.
Wareham personally witnessed the Teen Court trial of one of his best friends, an attorney with whom he now volunteers.
“His situation is a classic example of how Teen Court works,” Wareham said. “He was generally a good kid, but made a bad decision once. He realized, ‘This is serious — I can’t do this anymore.’”
In addition to volunteering with Teen Court, Wareham is the president of Riverview High School’s Mu Alpha Theta society, a member of the National Honor Society and employed year-round at Publix. He has been flying planes for the last four years and is working toward obtaining his private pilot’s license. When he graduates high school, he hopes to attend Auburn University or Florida State University and pursue a career in commercial aviation.
“Teen Court is not designed to be sentencing, but rehabilitation, so people don’t make the same choice,” Wareham said. “I can definitely say that it works — you can see a considerable change in all the people by the time they’ve gone through sentencing. I come because I love it.”
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