All rise: High court convenes at high school

“Due diligence,” “DNA test results,” “Indecent liberties,” “child molestation,” “rape,” “actual intercourse”....

Not the usual words you hear from the stage at the Bremerton High School auditorium.

But this was no avant-garde play or sex education lecture given to the assembled student body on Tuesday, March 26. This was State Division Two of the Court of Appeals, in session — the real thing — at the high school.

There was one official bailiff at the sessions. The school’s NROTC handled crowd control. No actual suspects were present. The three judges — Judge J. Robin Hunt, Chief Judge David H. Armstrong, Judge Christine Quinn-Brintnall — heard appeals on seven cases. There are seven appeals judges total in Division Two.

The idea of the visit was to help teach kids about the criminal justice system.

The students were rotated through the auditorium in 20-minute sessions throughout the day as arguments between defense lawyers and prosecution attorneys continued. Occasionally, judges would take a break to answer questions from kids.

As students exited the auditorium, many admitted they were a little lost by the legal language. Few were disturbed by the explicit language, however. Modern TV — both news and “entertainment” programming — has inured most youngsters to such terms as “rape” and “intercourse.”

“I wasn’t shocked by the language,” said 16-year-old, sophomore Josh Huddlestun, “but I found it disturbing what some people had done.”

The seven appeals heard ran the gamut. They included an appeal for convictions for “attempting to elude police,” “second-degree assault,” three rape or incest convictions, a summary judgement against a collection agency, and an appeal in a child support case.

Teacher Stan Williams, subbing for a health class Tuesday, commented as he led his students out of the auditorium that he wasn’t sure how much the kids got out of the experience.

“They (the school administrators) didn’t give us a very good introduction in advance.” On the other hand, he was very impressed with the judges: “They did a good job.”

One of the teachers who brought her students to the event was social studies teacher Michele Wise, who teaches a law and justice class.

Wise said her students would discuss the case briefs beforehand, debrief about what they observed and then make predictions about the outcome of each case. Rulings often come long after appeals are heard.

Jesse Labalan, 16, a sophomore, said he found the proceedings fascinating.

“It was exciting to me,” he said. “I kind of want to be a lawyer when I grow up.”

The court is based in Tacoma and has been visiting schools and other community venues about four times a year since 1987.

Judge Hunt, who’s been on the appeals bench six years, said the traveling court started out meeting in city halls and remote courthouses so appeals would be more convenient for lawyers. Division Two covers most counties in Western Washington. Finally it occurred to her that inviting students and the public to the hearings would be a good idea. Then they started meeting at schools.

“We (the court) have found we really enjoy this,” she said. “We feel like we’re educating students in the law.”

She said it’s a win-win situation, since they learn a lot from the students as well.

Most unexpected question she’s ever been asked by a student?

“We were hearing an appeal on an incest case, and one student got up and asked ‘If we’re all descended from Adam and Eve, aren’t we all guilty of incest?’”

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