Arapahoe High School faced its day in court Oct. 30, and definitely made its case for real-world education.
It was Courts in the Community Day, “developed to give Colorado high-school students firsthand experience in how the Colorado judicial system works and illustrate how disputes are resolved in a democratic society,” according to a press release. A real session of the Colorado Supreme Court was held in the school’s auditorium, with the seven real justices, bedecked in their real robes, hearing real arguments in two real cases.
Although some of the kids got fidgety toward the end of the second case, most were dressed professionally — some of the young men even donned business suits for the day — and many were eager to ask questions.
The case involved charges stemming from a home invasion in Jefferson County. Ricky Hoang was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 180 years in prison.
“He and five other men threatened to cut off the hand of a girl who was already disabled to get her jewelry,” prosecutor Emmy Langley told the court.
Hoang lost on appeal, and the Supreme Court agreed to review whether his right to a meaningful and speedy appeal was violated due to problems with the transcripts from his trial, and whether the court abused its discretion by requiring him to wear leg shackles. It took nearly four years from the time Hoang filed his appeal for the court reporter to finalize the record, which was incomplete and inaccurate.
“There’s really a systemic problem,” said defense attorney Kimberley Kaster in response to a very smart question from a student. “There are really long delays. The court reporters are taking a long time to produce records. … I believe it’s now the court’s obligation to step in and set some standards.”
Asked if she’s ever defended someone she thought was guilty, Kaster said she gets that question all the time.
“My job is to be an advocate to make sure she or he gets a fair chance in the process,” she said. “My job is to make sure the game is played fairly.”
Langley replied similarly when asked if she’d ever prosecuted someone she thought was innocent.
“It’s never really an issue, because the jury is the finder of fact,” she said.
But at the Supreme Court level, the justices are the sole jury, and attorneys make their arguments directly to them.
“The lawyers should know that we’re trying to solve the case, and they should help us solve it,” said Justice Gregory J. Hobbs Jr., in response to a question about what advice he would give attorneys.
Hobbs said he was drawn to a legal career by a sense of curiosity.
“Every case is like a puzzle,” he said. “Everything we hear really happened to someone. It’s not made up.”
Other important qualities for attorneys to have include honesty and compassion, said Justice Brian D. Boatright.
“They need to make sure there isn’t any cause that’s more important than what their integrity is telling them,” he said.