Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Local High School Students Say Court of Appeal Oral Argument ‘Cool’
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Members of a group of approximately 70 high schol students yesterday game their stamp of approval to a program that gave them the oppoturnity to leave class for the morning and attend oral arguments at the Ronald Regan State Building.
Students exclaimed at the end that the session, part of the Appellate Court Experience program run by this district’s Court of Appeal, was “so cool” and “incredible.” The group, from Dorsey High School and Burbank High School, gathered in the courtroom to see argument in People v. Sutton, No. B195305, before Justices Miriam Vogel and Frances Rothschild and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frank Y. Jackson, who is sitting by assignment in Div. One.
The courtroom visit is the second component of the ACE program’s three-part curriculum for local high schools, which Laura Wesley of the Constitutional Rights Foundation said was designed to fill the need to educate young people about the appellate process because “all they know is what we see on TV.”
“A lot of kids don’t know how to become lawyers and judges…. We’re trying to break down that barrier…and get kids excited about the law.”
The ACE program was founded in 2005, and is co-sponsored by the court, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Appellate Courts Committee, and the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers. The program has served over 500 students from over 20 high schools in Los Angeles County.
The program takes place four times per year, and rotates among the appellate courts’ divisions, Joseph Lane, the clerk of the court and administrator for the program, explained. The justices select a pending case and ask counsel for the parties to supply briefs to the participating schools; volunteer attorneys then go to the schools to explain the appellate court process and explain the background of the case to the students.
After the classroom session, the students visit the courthouse to experience the oral argument and have a question-and-answer session with the attorneys, in yesterday’s case, Lise Breakey for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Juliet H. Swoboda for the prosecution.
Yesterday, the students’ questions often focused on the more practical aspects of practicing law, including salary, caseload, education, experience, and how to address the morality conflict of prosecuting a defendant who the attorney believed to be innocent, or defending someone who the attorney thought was guilty.
Burbank High School student Sevana Zadourian said the program “really opened my eyes to…how everyone must be defended…and how we have to make sure everyone’s rights are protected or it won’t be a society we want to live in.”
The students also had the opportunity to go into chambers and speak privately with the justices. After the court issues its opinion, the volunteer lawyers will return to the schools and conduct a mock-trial with the students before revealing the appellate court’s decision.
ACE “provides an invaluable educational opportunity to understand the law and court system,” Benjamin Shatz of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and vice-chair of the Appellate Courts Committee, said. “The appellate level is where the law is made…. It’s important for students to see that.”
Sherman Oaks attorney Janet Gusdorff of Pine & Pine, who conducted the classroom session for Burbank High School, agreed:
“A lot of people go to law school because they want to change the world, and [the appellate process] is how you do that. This is where the legal action is…. And it’s great to be a part of showing [the appellate process] to the future lawyers of the world.”
The students also voiced their support of the program. Burbank High school student Catlen Abuata said “I thought it was thrilling…. I had never seen a case live in a courthouse, and it was fun to watch. I always wanted to be a lawyer…this [experience] just adds to it.”
The program relies entirely upon volunteer attorneys to function, and Shatz requested that any attorney interested in participating contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company