Jones County Junior College students witness Appellate court arguments for first time

Written By: Teresa Martin
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Date Submitted: 2012-09-18 10:06:44

ELLISVILLE – For the first time, the Appellate Court held oral arguments at Jones County Junior College as part of its “Court on the Road” program. Court has been in session at other state universities but JCJC was the first junior/community college to host this type of proceeding at the invitation of Jones County Circuit Court Judge, Billy Joe Landrum. 
“This was an opportunity to show the public what we do,” said Chief Justice Joe Lee. He also explained to the auditorium of about 200 students from the Pine Belt, “As Chief Justice I open and close proceedings. I have no greater voice than my colleagues.”
The timing was perfect to have the appeals court on campus, according to JCJC business law instructor, Joe Mauldin. “In Business Law classes, we are currently studying the appellate jurisdiction and the court systems at the federal and state levels. The Mississippi Court of Appeals, the reason for its existence, and its relatively recent creation in comparison to other Mississippi courts were the main points of our discussion. Seeing the Court of Appeals in action right on our campus could not be a better teaching opportunity and will serve as a springboard for deeper discussion later in the classroom. In teaching, ‘show me’ always trumps ‘tell me,’” he said.
Students interested in careers in law, local attorneys and court personnel attended the proceedings. West Jones high school student, Evan Buckley was invited by his dad, Jones County’s District Attorney, Anthony Buckley to witness the live court session.
“This was my first time to hear court,” said Evan Buckley. “I hear about it at home so I had an idea of what to expect but it was good to see it in person.”
The role of the Appeals Court is to review the evidence and determine if the law was applied. It is otherwise known as the “Error Court” with a different standard of review of cases.   
“All we have is the record,” said Judge Virginia Carlton. “We don’t see any witnesses so we don’t look at their credibility or their demeanor. If it’s not in the record then it’s not reviewed.” 
Judge Eugene Fair added, “Our court determines if the decision from the lower court was made in the right manner; not if it was right. Did they apply the law correctly? That’s what we decide.”
The three judges listened to arguments in a criminal appeal case in the morning and spent the afternoon hearing a civil wrongful death case at JCJC’s Whitehead Advanced Technology Center. Following arguments, high school students as well as business law college students, and paralegal students from Jones and Antonelli Colleges took the opportunity to ask questions of the judges and their law clerks.
“Why are there ten appellate court judges if there are only three judge panels?” asked Cindy Starkey, a paralegal student from Hattiesburg.
Judge Lee explained, “There are three-three judge panels. One judge is a swing judge who floats in case one judge needs to recuse him/herself for example. The panels rotate. There are never the same three judges sitting on a panel and there are six ‘sessions’ a year.”
The judges also explained oral arguments are allowed in only 20% of the cases they hear. That’s something Jones student, Sam Thorold from Leicester, England thought was a good idea.
“This is to the point with the presentation of facts. No drama. It’s also encouraging to know that it doesn’t matter what degree you have if you put in the time and effort in law school someone can become a lawyer,” said Thorold.
JCJC business law and accounting student Cheryl Stringer from Ellisville said she appreciates the legal system more after observing both court sessions. “These proceedings gave me a greater respect for due process. It was appealing because it was realistic. I learned so much today.”
Plans are already being made to return to Jones for another “Court on the Road” session. JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith said he appreciates Judge Landrum and the Appeals Court for giving students and the public a glimpse into the inner workings of this court that has only existed since 1995.


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