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Judge advises Till prosecutor

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Madera County Superior Court Judge Ernie LiCalsi talks with Hasani Heard, the lead student prosecutor in the mock trial of the Emmett Till murder case, along with Heard’s mother, Shanel Childs, and his sister, Brittini Hood, during a meeting in LiCalsi’s office Thursday.


The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the judge pronounced sentence. He adjourned the court and returned to his chambers; he was not going to let this pass. He was going to tell the prosecutor exactly what he thought about his performance.

That is why the young man was sitting ramrod straight in Judge Ernie LiCalsi’s office on June 16, looked him squarely in the face.

The prosecutor had been one of the eighth grade students who had identified an egregious miscarriage of justice in the murder case of Emmett Till, and had brought his murderers to justice in a mock trial that found the two killers of the 14-year-old black youth guilty.

Judge LiCalsi had listened carefully as the students prosecuted the case, and when he retired to his chambers, he determined to meet the lead student prosecutor, Hasani Heard, an African-American student from La Vina School. He wanted to convey to the young scholar that he saw tremendous promise in him. His Honor wanted him to know that the court recognized his awesome potential.

LiCalsi issued the invitation, and last Thursday, Hasani, his mother, Shanel Childs, and his sister, Brittini, were escorted to the judge’s desk in Department 23.

Flanked by his mother on one side and his sister on the other, Hasani sat looking squarely at the judge in whose court he had made an argument a few weeks before.

LiCalsi leaned over the top of his desk and inquired into what careers Heard was thinking about pursuing. The jurist said he wanted to suggest that Hasani consider a career in law. While affirming his belief that Hasani could succeed in anything he desired, he pointed out that Madera had no African-American attorneys or judges.

LiCalsi shared with his young protégé his own professional journey. After graduating from high school and Fresno State, he decided that he wanted to be an attorney and set his sights on UCLA. At that point, however, his father died, and he had to restructure his plans. He wound up attending UC Hastings College of Law with the help of his mother and student loans.

After a brief time in private practice, LiCalsi came to Madera as a deputy district attorney. In 1992, he became District attorney, a position he held for 17 years — a record for Madera County. In 2009, he was elected to the Superior Court.

Hasani listened intently. This was an experience he never expected; it was certainly one he would never forget, and everything in his young life indicated that the Judge’s confidence was well placed.

Hasani’s years in Madera’s schools are replete with recognition and academic awards. He has also participated in numerous extra-curricular activities and every team sport that was available to him.

He began school in Pershing Elementary, and in the fourth grade he moved to Sierra Vista School. By the sixth grade, he attended La Vina School from which he graduated in June. Hasani will attend Madera South High School in August.

Heard is presently exploring the opportunities in computer engineering and web design. With mentorship from his father, Lance, Hasani has been learning and working with computers for years.

At the conclusion of his meeting with Hasani, LiCalsi gave him his personal contact information and told him to get in touch with him if he ever needed help.

The Judge told The Tribune that he intended to follow Hasani’s progress as he moves into adulthood and intends to be ready to assist him if ever the need arose.


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