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Oregon Court of Appeals visits Crook County schools

by: KATE WENNERSTROM/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - udge Robert Wollheim answered questions from a group of Crook County Middle School students on Wednesday.

As part of the Oregon Court of Appeals' School and Community Outreach program, students from Crook County High and Middle Schools had the opportunity to witness an actual court ruling.
   "I think many of the kids found it really interesting," said School District Administrator Lora Nordquist. "I think they appreciated that it is a real trial, this is not somebody pretending to do something for you and these people have a lot of experience."
   The panel of three Oregon Court of Appeals (OCOA) judges came to Prineville to rule on four actual cases, in an effort to show the students about the court of law.
   "We're invisible in Salem and we like to get out and talk about what we do, how we do it, and why it's important," said OCOA Judge Robert Wollheim.
   With 10 judges on the OCOA, panels of three judges are rotated throughout the state to hold an actual session of the OCOA in the schools.
   "Our auditorium is set up just like a courtroom," Nordquist said. "They have the tables and lecterns all set up just like it would be in a courtroom. They do that throughout the state as an educational outreach."
   "We get requests from principals to come and have oral arguments at their schools," Wollheim said. "Usually we have three judges at a high school from October through May. We set it up in advance, we pick the cases and the judges rotate through."
   On Wednesday, the three judges chosen to argue cases in Prineville - Wollheim, Judge Walter Edmonds and Judge Timothy Sercombe - went to Crook County Middle School and CCHS to answer questions that select groups of students had asked.
   "We'll take questions from the kids and chat with them," Wollheim said. "We'll take pretty much any question, except how we're going to rule on the case."
   Indeed, Wollheim answered the middle school students' questions, ranging from how much he earns per year ($102,000, low on the scale of COA judges nationwide) to has he or his family ever been threatened because of a ruling he made (not that he is aware of, but there are security measures in place).
   The four cases the judges brought to the school involved one civil case and three criminal cases.
   "The civil case involves an irrigation district and a property owner that had a fight about the irrigation district's easement," Wollheim said. "We try to bring cases that might have some interest, either because of the nature of the case or because of some local ties."
   Wollheim said that between the 10 judges working in panels of three, they rule on approximately 2,000 cases per year.
   According to the court's Web site, "the court has jurisdiction to hear all civil and criminal appeals from circuit courts, except death penalty cases, and to review most state administrative agency actions."
   Wollheim explained to the students at CCMS his thoughts on the elected position.
   "I actually think I have the best job in the world," Wollheim said. "I really love what I do, I feel really lucky to have it. What I do a lot of is read the written arguments, one of the judges estimated around 3,000 pages a month. I research the law and write and draft opinions that get published in the books. It's a great job. I love what I do."