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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 29 2012

High court in high school

WEST FARGO – The North Dakota Supreme Court heard an appeal at West Fargo High School on Monday, and no, it wasn’t anything like “Judge Judy.”

No lights. No cameras. No witty insults. No commercial breaks.

Just the five justices, peppering attorneys for the state and the appellant on facts and law in a court session that will determine whether a man convicted of attempted murder gets a new trial.

For some of the several hundred seniors packing the risers of the school’s gym, the “Taking the Court to the Schools” session was better than “must-see TV.”

“Honestly, I thought it was interesting,” said Kym Ross.

“I’ve always been inspired to go into political science,” said Ross, who is considering a minor in law. “It’s really opened my eyes to a different field of politics,” she said.

“I thought it was really cool to experience what would happen in a real court. Really, really cool,” said Juanita Hoeger.

For other students, it was a test to stay awake.

Riley Freehauf said the only court proceedings she’s seen were in the movie “Legally Blonde.”

“It was sort of boring,” Freehauf said of the real thing.

The court’s five justices, Daniel Crothers, Mary Muehlen Maring, Dale Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner and Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle, heard the arguments in The State of North Dakota v. Vincente Chicano.

Chicano had been convicted of two counts of attempted murder for trying to shoot a prosecutor and an Adams County sheriff in a courtroom after he had been found guilty of another crime. The appeal claimed some evidence was inadmissible, a prosecutor’s statement was improper, and that the evidence didn’t prove the alleged crime.

After the appeal was heard, the justices were then peppered by questions from the students:

“Do you have specific roles you give each other?”

“How hard is it to keep your personal opinions out of cases?”

“Is it hard to let someone go when errors are made?”

VandeWalle said the court outreach program, which was revived in 2000, is important.

“I think to a certain extent, it energizes the court,” he said.

Crothers said it also educates students about the judiciary, which, along with the rest of civics, is getting less emphasis in the past few years.

“A lot of them get their information on courts from television,” Crothers said. “Judge Judy. I just cringe.”

The justices had also spent the morning answering students’ questions in civics classes, and shared lunch with them in the commons.

It is the second time the Supreme Court has been at West Fargo High. The last time was in 2000.

Principal Gary Clark praised the court program.

“I think it’s really neat for the court to take the time,” Clark said. “I think they’ve gone above and beyond in making themselves accessible to the kids.”

The court will release its decision on the appeal sometime in the next three months.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583