CHENANGO COUNTY — Members of the legal field and elected officials gathered at the Chenango County Courthouse on Monday, May 16 to celebrate Law Day, an annual event that recognizes the importance of the United States judicial system.
"Like all holidays and celebrations, this annual event gives us an opportunity to come together, to gather, to reflect upon, and to recommit to time-honored values and traditions that we all share. We gather to celebrate Law Day to honor the shared values upon which our nation is founded," said Judge Elizabeth Garry, who presided over the ceremony along with Judge Frank Revoir, Jr.
A highlight of the event was the presentation of the prestigious Liberty Bell Award, given out each year on Law Day to a non-lawyer citizen.
"The award honors a person who has strengthened the American system of freedom and justice under law through their extraordinary contributions in the community. Generally speaking, the Liberty Bell Award is given for outstanding service in promoting a better understanding of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, for encouraging greater respect for the law and the courts, for stimulating a deeper sense of individual responsibility so that citizens recognize their duties as well as their rights," said Revoir.
"It’s also for contributing to the effective functioning of our constitutions of government, and for fostering a better understanding and appreciation of the rule of law."
This year's recipient was Mary Weidman, who served as the Chenango County Clerk for 27 years, from her election in 1994 until her retirement in 2021, making her not only the longest serving county clerk, but also the first woman to ever hold the position.
According to Revoir, Weidman's time in public service spans a total of 54 years, in which time she worked as an Onondaga County Department of Social Services Caseworker, a Chenango County Social Services Caseworker, the Director of the Chenango County Employment and Training Agency, and as the Deputy Commissioner of the Chenango County Department of Social Services.
She has also served on the Chenango United Way Board of Directors, the Board of Visitors for SUNY Oneonta, the Board of Visitors for the Broome Developmental Disabilities Office, the Board of Directors for the Chenango County Historical Society (CCHS), and the Chenango County Community Workshop Board of Directors.
Weidman currently holds the seat of President of the Chenango County Agricultural Society, serves on the Northeast Classic Car Museum Board of Directors, is a member of the Oxford Lions Club, and volunteers at CCHS.
The Liberty Bell Award was presented to Weidman by Chenango County Bar Association President Claudette Newman.
"On behalf of the Bar Association and the legal community, not only here but the lawyers from all the surrounding areas, how much we appreciated your work as the county clerk. Always friendly, the staff was always friendly and professional. As a commissioner of jurors you did a wonderful job, and I know everyone here will join me in saying thank you for all your years of service," said Newman.
Weidman explained that in her many years of public service, her primary goal was to help people in whatever way she could.
"Helping people over the years, whether it was a personal process that I was doing or it was through a government program and human resources that I worked in for several years, or if it was through a program like the county clerk or working directly with the courts, or even if it was waiting on tables at the restaurant, it remained my primary goal in life just to help others in life and in government needs," she said.
"I’ve always approached my life and my employment goals with the goal and concept: try to make coordination and collaboration something that has been effective for everyone, be it the people that are providing the services or those that are receiving the services," Weidman continued. "I think it all goes back to that whole initial comment that I made when I was a relatively naive person starting my first job, and I really wanted to help people. That has been my concept for my whole public, and professional, and personal career."
The Norwich High School Mock Trial Team was also presented with a plaque commemorating their win of the 2021-2022 Mock Trial Tournament.
Many lawyers and judges present during the ceremony reflected on their own time as members of a high school mock trial team, and credited the experience to their decision to go to law school. One of which was Attorney Lisa Natoli, who has coached the Norwich High School Mock Trial Team for the last few years.
"The Mock Trial program provides students in high school with so many wonderful skills," said Natoli. "I’ve seen them grow so much over the months we’ve spent together. They have to learn the law, they have to learn how to present an argument, how to draft an argument, how to object which is a terrifying experience for a high school student. But they also learn how to speak up for themselves. They learn how to speak in public. They learn how to converse with adults that they don’t know."
She also explained the amount of work the students put in each week, from learning the law, exploring their case, crafting opening and closing arguments, preparing direct examinations and cross examinations, and more.
Natoli said this year's tournament case was one of the toughest they've seen, but that all students in the Mock Trial program did exceptionally well.
"This year was one of the worst problems I think we’ve seen, as long as I’ve been doing mock trial, for 20-some years. It was a horrific investment act issue," she said. "These students, and the students at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton and Sherburne-Earlville, they mastered it, they learned it, they did amazing. ... It was so far beyond reasonable understanding, but the students really wrapped their heads around and put the effort in to understand it and present a case."
Ten students on the Norwich High School Mock Trial Team were presented with the plaque by Chenango County Bar Association President Claudette Newman.