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JUSTICE WLHS style

Oregon Appeals Court comes to WLHS
by: CINDY GARRISON, Members of the Oregon Court of Appeals, from left, Judge Timothy Sercombe, Judge Walter Edmonds and Judge Eve Miller  talk with West Linn High School students.  Below: Judge Miller, left, and Judge Sercombe answer student’s questions.

The West Linn High School auditorium seldom looks like it did a week ago. The oft-used theater stage was turned into a state-level courtroom when the Oregon Court of Appeals held a one-day session at the school.

Three cases were heard by the three-justice panel, and students were given the opportunity to watch, listen and learn more about the judicial system that many have been studying.

'I was surprised that they actually brought the court of appeals to our high school,' said senior Toby Carl. 'It was actual court proceedings. It was actual people with legal problems in front of the class.'

The three cases were: Stanley Dehiya vs. Todd Spencer, the State of Oregon vs. Kraymer and the State of Oregon vs. Lillie.

'Students see the trial process all the time on television,' said Matt Kellogg, constitutional law teacher. 'But rarely do they get a glimpse at the appeals court process.

The first case involved two workers installing electrical lines in Central Oregon. They ran into a tree, and the passenger was injured. The passenger sued the driver. The driver claims the injury occurred during 'work' in a company truck. Therefore, he says he cannot be sued and any injury should be covered under Oregon Worker's Compensation law.

The second case involved a man who was taken out of his car by an officer and given a series of sobriety tests. He asked to see an attorney, but the officer continued to do the test. The defendant wanted the court to suppress any evidence gained after he requested an attorney.

In the final case, the defendant brutally assaulted her 88-year-old mother. The victim was in ill health prior to the beating. Six days after the attack, she died. The defendant was charged with murder. It was appealed on grounds that the state failed to prove the cause of death with medical certainty.

Hearing real cases in court was important to Carl. He found it meaningful.

'They (the lawyers) get into the detail pretty thoroughly,' Carl said. 'They knew what they were talking about.

'It think constitutional law is interesting and important to understand. It's really interesting how complex the law system is.'

Carl is a member of the school's debate team.

'Comparing what I do at a tournament to the lawyer, I saw a really big gap between those things,' he said. 'It's a good thing to aspire to - to debate like (the lawyers) do.'

Carl said the he didn't envy the choice the judges had to make. He said if he had been judge, it would have been difficult. He often found merit on both sides.

'It would be difficult for me to decide,' he said. 'They both brought up good points.'

Charles Steele, another senior, also appreciated the opportunity to watch the justice system in action.

'I understand the basis for what happened,' he said. 'It reassured me the justice system and the appeals court are very strong and will protect us.'

Steele intends on practicing environmental law sometime in his future. He first wants to graduate from the University of Portland in environmental sciences and then from the University of Oregon with a law degree.

'It's important for people, especially for my age, to understand how our world - especially our justice system - works,' he said.

'For honors law students, it was an opportunity to see the court in action,' Kellogg said. 'They will be participating in a similar mock court experience. So, observing the court and modeling their presentations after what they saw will be invaluable.'

There are many intricacies in the law.

'Learning the law is like learning a new way of thinking and in many ways like learning a new language,' Kellogg said. 'By exposing students to oral arguments, I hoped they would better understand the 'language' of the court. Regardless of the issues being argued, I wanted them to be able to break the argument down - and critically analyze the argument and how it was presented.'

After hearing the cases and talking about them in class, Carl better understood the judicial system, especially the appeals court.

'It's good for the lawyers,' he said. 'It's good for the judges; good for the system; and good for justice.'

Cindy Garrison is employed by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and often writes articles for the Tidings.