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Court of Appeals connects with kids

The Oregon Court of Appeals held oral arguments on two cases at Hood River Valley High School Nov. 9 in front of a capacity crowd of students in Bowe Theater.

Three appellate judges dressed in their black robes heard lawyers argue the finer points of the cases from behind a folding table made to look court-like with white ruffled skirting. The appellate court's session at the high school was initiated by Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley, who last year asked HRVHS principal Ben Kolb if he'd be interested in having the court come. That set in motion a lengthy process which culminated in Friday's event, which Crowley said was a success.

"The `Court of Appeals on Wheels' is a great hands-on educational experience," Crowley said.

Prior to the court convening, Crowley explained to the students the logistics involved in getting the appellate court session, which is normally held in Salem, to HRVHS.

"We tried to find cases that would be of interest to students," Crowley said. Then the various players involved had to consent to traveling to Hood River and having their cases heard in front of hundreds of students.

Judge Rick Haselton, the panel's presiding judge, introduced the judges and the cases.

"Hood River Valley High School, for today, is the Oregon Court of Appeals," he said. "The cases we're hearing today involve real people with real problems. This is deadly serious stuff."

The first case involved the legality of a car search in Northeast Portland which led to the discovery of drugs; the trial court had concluded that the search was unlawful. The second case was one in which a parent of a Portland School District student charged that the district had violated the Oregon constitution by allowing the Boy Scouts of America to recruit students during school hours. The parent claimed a constitutional provision prohibiting the use of state funds to benefit religious organizations was violated; the trial court had ruled in favor of the school district.

The judges peppered the lawyers with questions centering on how the law was applied in the lower court ruling. In the interest of the educational experience, the judges allotted the attorneys more than time than they would have had if the session was held in Salem, according to Crowley.

The lawyers and judges occasionally lapsed into incomprehensible legalese, but the general interest of the cases held the attention of most of the students throughout the two-and-a-half hour session. A question-and-answer period at the end had to be scrapped because the session had run long, but the judges visited four classrooms -- placing the judges in direct interaction with students, many of whom had not been present for the morning session in Bowe Theater.

"The most meaningful time was spent directly with the kids," Crowley said.

Crowley and the appellate judges' attempt to bring relevant cases to the session seemed to pay off.

"It seemed kind of long, but it was really interesting," said senior Samantha Meyers.

Senior Nathan Armerding said the back-and-forth between the lawyers and judges in the first case reinforced his own views on illegal searches. "I think the case was pretty hard to argue," he said.

Some students appreciated the bigger picture of listening to the appeals process first-hand. "I think it's important to know what goes on in the court system because we're deeply affected by it," said senior Kristin Anderson.

"It was a unique educational opportunity for our kids to see that body in session at our school," Kolb said. "I thought our teachers did a great job or prepping the kids, and I was real proud of our kids. They did a great job in a fairly long session."

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