The rule of law: Why is it important for us as individuals and for the communities and nations in which we live?

That was the question the Santa Barbara County Bar Foundation asked local students to answer in its 2008 essay contest. The contest winners were honored Friday evening at a ceremony at the Courthouse, after which the San Marcos High Mock Trial team, which won top honors in the county, staged its first-degree murder trial, presided over by Superior Court Judge Tom Anderle. The events were to celebrate Law Day, a day first proclaimed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958.

The essay contest winners, all San Marcos High freshmen, are Eli Harris, first prize; Amy Ransohoff, second prize; and Dillon Kraus, third prize.

“We sat and brainstormed ideas for a while,” said their English teacher, Desa Mandarino. “But I couldn’t give them any feedback, or make corrections or anything.”

The students came up with a variety of ways to deal with the flexible topic, in the process revealing their own perspective of law, its function in society, and its importance to an early teen.

“There were thoughts on personal safety, keeping order in society, and then this sub-theme of all things (related to) driving,” said Chris Kopitzke, one of three judges who took on the task of reviewing the submissions.

But, driver’s licenses and speed limits aside, according to Kopitzke, the essays discussed many facets of the law’s function.

“Some essays talked about taxes and tax incentives, another essay talked about balancing the law with compassion, about freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” she said.

Harris, the first-place essayist, took on a perspective of life without laws, a topic he skillfully explored with the help of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, as well as issues regarding freedoms and rights. His essay will be published in the June issue of Santa Barbara Lawyer.

“I’m really stoked,” Harris told Noozhawk, about his achievement. “There are a lot of smart kids out there, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it.”

Plans for his $500 prize include possibly getting new soccer cleats, but he’s also leaning toward saving up to get a car in the near future.

“So I can enjoy the freedom of driving,” he laughed.