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Banks seniors listen in as panel of judges from the Oregon Court of Appeals hear four cases at their school

Darleen Mock Ortega returned to Banks High School last Wednesday, 26 years after she was a student there.

This time, she was wearing a long black robe.

Ortega, 44, is one of 10 judges who sit on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She and two other judges - Jack Landau and David Schuman - listened to lawyers argue four appeals cases on Feb. 21.

They provided about 100 Banks seniors with a real-life view of what goes on in the aftermath of a trial.

'This isn't 'Judge Judy,' and it's not 'Law and Order,'' said Jill Howell, the state appeals court's judicial assistant and traveling bailiff. 'This is a chance for students to see what happens in the process after the initial trial is over.'

Judges Landau, Ortega and Schuman sat at a long table on the stage inside the school cafeteria, dwarfed by a blue-and-white set from Banks' production of 'Snow Angel.'

They sifted through briefs and heard oral arguments from dark-suited attorneys on cases involving a potentially illegal search, weapons possession, drunk driving and wrongful death.

Senior Lisa Carr, whose grandfather was a lawyer, found the experience to be eye-opening.

'Is there any special way or criteria you use to decide who gets to write the opinion on each case?' she asked the panel during a question-and-answer session.

Landau responded that the procedure is fairly democratic.

'We usually have a conversation among ourselves and decide who wants to write it,' said the presiding judge. 'It's basically a matter of who feels the strongest about a particular case.'

Bryant Kryck, another senior, said he was thinking of going into law as a career.

'If I'm headed in that direction after graduation,' he wanted to know, 'what advice would you give me?'

The judges looked at one another and smiled. Be of good moral character, they said. Get good grades and stay out of trouble.

Besides that, Ortega added, 'feel free to study in your area of interest.'

After graduating near the top of the Banks High Class of 1980, Ortega enrolled at George Fox University in Newberg as a writing and literature major.

She earned her law degree, with honors, at the University of Michigan Law School in 1989. Ortega now lives in Portland.

Kryck seemed pleased to hear that he had choices.

'Being a judge is one of the jobs I'd like to wake up to in the morning,' he said. 'But I'm also interested in law enforcement.'

Doug Ainge, a social studies teacher at Banks High, was happy his students were exposed to the inner workings of the appellate court.

'It's great for them to see this first-hand,' he said.

Howell, who lives in Salem, sets up the judges' visits to high schools around the state. Last fall, several appeals court judges traveled to Nyssa on the Oregon-Idaho border.

'This is a nice big group,' she said of the Banks event. 'They're having a good time.'