Judge brings courtroom expertise to criminal justice class

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz teaches a new "Rules of Evidence" class at La Sierra University's Criminal Justice campus.

May 15, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) During the last week of April, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz drove to La Sierra University’s Criminal Justice campus in Corona to teach a weekly course, “Rules of Evidence.”

He had just left a courtroom where he was hearing a capital murder case, the facts of which provided further opportunity to challenge his students.

Schwartz’s class, new this spring quarter, tackles complicated rules governing use of evidence in court. It deals with various forms of potential court evidence and evidence-gathering processes such as hearsay, search and seizure of evidence, wiretaps and other activities.

It is an upper division course that covers the penal code system and requires prerequisites in criminal law, court procedures, constitutional law and other classes. And it is vital knowledge for students interested in law enforcement, law school, crime scene investigation or other areas of criminal justice. “It is critical to students who will collect, analyze and safeguard evidence,” said Cindy Parkhurst, on site director of the Criminal Justice program.  “Students aspiring to be forensic analysts would absolutely need to take this course.

The capital murder case under Schwartz’s jurisdiction involved an individual with a criminal history charged with killing a clerk at a convenience store. Schwartz challenged his students to determine what character traits would be admissible in court based on the defendant’s background. The answer came with a catch. “You can’t introduce bad character unless the other side brings it up first,” Schwartz said.

“I’m trying to teach the class like a law school class,” he said. “I’m trying to get them to reason and think like an attorney would.” To accomplish this, Schwartz uses fact patterns based on legal cases from the course textbook and from court cases, and employs a Socratic method of teaching by giving students hypothetical scenarios to work with, requiring them to ask and answer questions and engage in inquiry and debate. At the end of the class, students must present opening and closing arguments as do attorneys presenting court cases, and conduct direct and cross examinations.

“And there’s a lot of writing. They will need to know how write,” he said. The course also covers how the judicial system works from the trial courts to the appellate courts.

Schwartz brings a wealth of experience to bear on the subject, including several years as a private attorney handling civil, business, personal injury, corporate litigation and other matters. He also served as a deputy public defender on more than 20 criminal misdemeanor jury verdict trials and more than 20 felony jury trials. As an attorney, over the past 12 years through his law office Johnston & Schwartz, he has tried more than 80 criminal felony jury trials and more than 300 preliminary hearings. He has served as a Riverside County Superior Court judge since 2003.

The Criminal Justice program at La Sierra, just finishing its third year, has 135 students enrolled and will graduate its first class in June. Many students have career interests in crime scene investigation, law school, law enforcement, private security, nonprofit work with victim-witness programs, corrections and probation, court administration and other avenues. “The “Rules of Evidence” class is important to all [such] careers because it deals with rules of procedures and deals with the evidence that can be admitted into court, and evidence that will not admitted into court,” said Todd Bell, a member of La Sierra’s Criminal Justice program. “It is very important that anyone in law enforcement, corrections, CSI, that they follow rules and procedures that govern the criminal justice system.”

  • Last update on  May 20, 2013