BANGOR, Maine — The Penobscot County Bar Association awarded its Law Day prizes Tuesday in a short ceremony at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

The theme for this year’s art and essay contest, set by the American Bar Association, was “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom: In this Era of Shrinking Tax Revenues and Budgets, How Can Courts Meet Their Mandate of Providing Justice for All?”

“The contest committee asked the students to recognize that recent budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels have seriously compromised the courts’ ability to function effectively and keep the wheels of justice turning swiftly,” Bangor attorney Joe Bethony, who organized this year’s contest, said Tuesday.

For the third year in a row, Chelsea Kuzio, who attends Hampden Academy, won first place in the art category. Lena Stewart, a Brewer High School student, won second place.

Kuzio’s pencil drawing depicted the role government funding plays in the court system using a series of gears and a large pair of scissors poised to cut the rope that helps them turn.

“It ties together wonderfully the theme that money is needed to ensure access to justice and the courts and what happens to the wheels of justice when that funding is literally cut,” Bethony said in awarding Kuzio the prize.

Stewart’s color drawing focused on how people may suffer when justice is not available to them.

First prize in the essay contest went to Cormac Close, a student at Bangor High School. He said the structure of American society depends on a “few key principles,” including trust and order.

“[One] reason for the justice system is to make sure we deliver justice,” he wrote. “Sure, we could just cut people’s hands off if someone merely accuses them of stealing or have a mob lynch them,” he wrote. “Criminal punishment is meant to deter and ensure public safety.

“For this to occur, you need a fair trial,” he said. “This is because murders due to anarchy are just as bad as unfair executions, and unfair fines are the equivalent of stealing; both imperil the innocent whom the law is formed to protect.”

Second prize in the essay contest went to Rowan Bost, a Brewer High School student. She wrote that inadequate funding of the court system could negatively affect commerce.

“The civil court system is already slow because of underfunding,” she said. “Funding cuts would lead to further reductions in staffing and services, worsening people’s access to the resolution of legal issues.

“A business owner would be faced with an even longer delay on an important legal issue, leading to a loss in commerce,” Bost said. “America is a great place to live, in part because of its commerce, and without civil court efficiency, America would be dysfunctional.”

Dillon Corliss, a Hampden Academy student, Noah Karam, a Bangor High School student, and Teagan Cook, a Dexter High School student, were awarded honorable mention certificates.

The winners of the contest will be on hand at the annual Walter Hunt 4th of July road race from Brewer to Bangor to hand out awards to race winners.

“The Penobscot County Bar Association thought it was a good match between Law Day and our Independence Day race to fete both the athletes and the scholars in our midst,” Susan J. Pope, a member of the organization, said last week.

The contest awarded $500 and $250 prizes for first and second places, respectively. It was open to students in grades 9-12 in a Penobscot County school or to those who are home-schooled in Penobscot County in the equivalent of grades 9-12.

The bar association has offered the scholarship since 1997 in connection with Law Day, which has been celebrated on May 1 since 1958. The day was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “day of national dedication to the principle of government under law.” During the height of the Cold War, Law Day was counterpoised against May Day as feted in the Soviet Union, according to the American Bar Association.

The judges for this year’s contest were U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr.; Maine Superior Court Justice Jessie B. Gunther; James P. Aucoin, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County; Steven J. Mogul of Gross, Minsky & Mogul; Jean M. Deighan of Deighan Associates, Inc.; and JoAnne Houlsen of Bangor.