A look behind the judiciary curtain

The judiciary is the least visible branch of government and perhaps the least understood. So it’s good when jurists make an effort to demystify the judicial process, especially the appellate process.

Last month, the Indiana Supreme Court conducted a session at Columbus North High School. More than 700 students from several area high schools and middle schools got an up-close look at how the state’s highest court operates.

The Indiana Supreme Court travels outside its Indianapolis location about once a year to hear oral arguments for an actual case it is considering. The venue change is solely for educational purposes. Last year, the five justices heard traveling arguments at Purdue University.

Justice Steven David, a Columbus North graduate, recommended his alma mater as the site for this year’s travel project.

The students heard a case that involves a drunken driving accident that left a woman dead. That’s notable because of the 1.5 million cases heard in trial courts statewide each year, the Indiana Supreme Court accepts only 80 to 100. Attorneys for both parties had 20 minutes to address the court with a five-minute rebuttal.

The project was interactive, too, as students got to participate — one was selected to serve as a mock bailiff — and ask the justices questions following oral arguments.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, the state’s second-highest court, occasionally conducts sessions outside Indianapolis, too. In February 2000, the judges met in the Franklin College campus center to hear arguments in a product liability lawsuit. And like in Columbus, students heard arguments and afterward were allowed to ask questions.

Just last week, the appeals court conducted a hearing at New Palestine High School in Hancock County.

These are great programs that allow young people a firsthand opportunity to see how the legal system works. The Supreme Court is to be commended for taking real cases on the road and using them as an educational tool. The more the courts can do in this regard, the better, as it will lead to a more informed citizenry.

At issue

The judicial appeal process is not well understood by many people.

Our point

The state’s highest court should continue to regularly convene away from Indianapolis to help teach young people abut its procedures.

At a glance

Appeals on Wheels typically occur at high schools, colleges, law schools and courtrooms, but they’ve also been held at conference centers, tourist sites and even retirement communities.

If your school, bar association or other organization would like to host Appeals on Wheels, please contact Communications Director Martin DeAgostino at 317-234-4859 or by email at martin.deagostino@courts.in.gov.