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Students and staff assembled in the auditorium of Mountain Vista High School for what senior Grace Wilson described as a “once in a lifetime” experience. On stage, behind a long table, sat the Colorado Supreme Court. Over three hours, the seven justices heard two cases.
“It seemed very thorough,” said Wilson, 17, “and it assured me that they are doing their job very well.”
The visit was part of Courts in the Community, an educational program created by the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals on Law Day — May 1 — in 1986. The program's goal is to show Colorado high school students how the Colorado judicial system works and how disputes are resolved in a democratic society, according to the Colorado Judicial Department. Both courts try to visit one urban and one rural school each year in the fall and spring, where they hear two oral arguments. The cases are not mock; the courts issue official opinions weeks or months later.
At Mountain Vista on Oct. 17, the Colorado Supreme Court first heard a case involving a tree planted on a mutual property line that one neighbor wants removed and the other wants to protect. In the second case, lawyers argued whether or not somebody who drives drunk but does not place a particular person at substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury can be guilty of attempted manslaughter and attempted assault, a document from Colorado Judicial Department says.
In both cases, lawyers referred to a precedent, or a former case that helps the court make a decision on a current similar case.
“That is something that is hard to grasp unless it is in front of you,” said Douglas County School District Interim Superintendent Erin Kane.
Students from government, leadership, history, speech and debate classes at Mountain Vista and other schools in the district filled the seats of the auditorium. The event — which had a catered breakfast, security from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and about 375 students — took months to plan, said Mountain Vista principal Mike Weaver.
“A lot goes into the process,” Weaver said. “I think it's a great, authentic, relevant event for our kids to see.”
Following each case, students asked lawyers questions about their decision-making process and backgrounds. At the end of the program, students lined up at the edge of the stage to question the Colorado Supreme Court.
“Is it a long road? Sure,” Justice Monica Marquez replied to a student. “It does take time, experience and there are a lot of bumps along the way.”
For Mountain Vista senior Maya Doane, the program encouraged her career aspirations. She plans on majoring in history and Spanish and going to law school.
“It was very interesting,” Doane said, “and I am very thankful for the opportunity.”
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