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TOGETHER ON TEEN COURT: Sisters Rosemary, left, and Vera Franke say they've learned from their experience and believe teen court can make a difference in the lives of other teenagers. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
TOGETHER ON TEEN COURT: Sisters Rosemary, left, and Vera Franke say they've learned from their experience and believe teen court can make a difference in the lives of other teenagers. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The girls don't know why they did it, but at the time, slipping a package of Jo-Jos past a cashier seemed a good idea.

They thought they had gotten away with their caper, but the long arm of the law reached out and grabbed them.

After the law grabbed them, the Union County Teen Court grabbed them — and kept them. Today, more than two years after their run-in with the law, Rosemary Franke, 16, and her sister, Vera, 14, are among the most faithful of teen court volunteers.

Recently Rosemary and Vera told their story to The Observer.

The two sisters went with one of their friends to Albertson's one late summer day two-and-a-half years ago. They ordered $2 worth of Jo-Jos and walked out of the store without paying for them.

The three were followed out of the store by a cashier and the manager.

"They asked us if we stole the Jo-Jos," Rosemary said. "We said, ‘No.' They asked us for a receipt and we told them we'd thrown it away. Then they asked us which cashier we'd gone to, and we just picked a lane."

When the manager and cashier went back into the store to verify their story, the girls walked away, headed for their La Grande home.

They didn't get far.

A few blocks from the store, they were stopped by a policeman. By that time, the girls had eaten some of the Jo-Jos and thrown away the rest.

"We didn't want to get caught with the evidence," Rosemary said.

When the police officer asked if they'd stolen the Jo-Jos, Rosemary and Vera admitted their crime. The sisters were handcuffed and put in the back seat of the patrol car, while their friend was put in another patrol car.

"We weren't belted in," said Vera. "Just handcuffed. He told us to sit sideways.

"It's pretty scary being in a cop car."

They didn't go to jail; they went home to wait for their mother, Candy Williams, who was out looking for her daughters.

"They had asked to go for a walk and I was cooking dinner," she said. "When they didn't come home by 7:30, I went looking for them."

When Williams returned home, the girls were sitting in a police car outside their house.

When each of the sisters was given a citation for third-degree theft, she was also given a choice. A new teen court, staffed by high school students, was getting ready to open, and they could go before their peers or face fines.

Rosemary and Vera chose teen court, becoming the first defendants to appear before the court that was established by the Union County Juvenile Department.

Their fellow teenagers handed them a pretty stiff sentence: 30 hours of community service at Albertson's, an apology letter, three hours of theft classes, and a stint on the teen court jury.

More than two years later, the sisters continue to serve on the teen court jury as volunteers.

"I think Rose and Vera — they were the first case ever to go through teen court — represent the perfect defendant," said Ben Morgan, who organized and supervises the court. "They were young and impressionable, and came into the court before they got involved in the system and were stuck in a pattern of bad behavior.

"We address their behavior at a young age and get them involved in something positive."

The sisters echoed Morgan's thoughts about the court's positive effects.

"Teen court — it's really good for kids," Rosemary said. "They make sure they teach you not to do it again."

Vera added, "It's a good thing for teenagers; it's like regular court."

"We volunteer all the time," Rosemary said.

The court meets once or twice each month and is staffed by an adult judge, sometimes a teacher or a community leader. Students who take a high school class on mock trials serve as lawyers or the bailiff. The jury is made up of volunteers.

Sometimes the court is crowded.

"Usually the room is packed," Rosemary said. "It's really fun when you're a volunteer."

Morgan praised the sisters' involvement.

"These girls are exceptional girls," he said. "Wise people learn from their mistakes. They knew they were headed down the wrong path and were willing to do something about it. They're making better decisions in their lives."

The better decisions include improved grades. Rosemary and Vera earned 3.0 grade point averages for the first trimester of the school year.

"It was my first 3.0," said Rosemary, who is a sophomore.

"Last year I had really bad grades at middle school," said Vera, who is an eighth grader. "This year I've brought them up a lot."

The girls' mother summed up her thoughts.

"I'm really proud of them," she said.


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