Second Circuit Court of Appeal educates students

Maggie Eubanks

The justice system in the U.S. can be mysterious and hard to understand. Lawyers and judges seem to speak in a different language, and there are certain decorums and traditions that must be kept. 

The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal attempted to lift the veil last Tuesday when they convened court in Brown Auditorium. Students and community members were able to sit in and listen as five appeals were argued in front of a panel of judges. 

There were three cases heard in the morning session and two heard in the afternoon. Each case brought its own set of new material for students to listen in and learn something new.

After the cases were finished, judges and lawyers took questions from the audience to make the judicial system easier to understand and more engaging. 

According to Justice James “Jimbo” Stephens, educating students is exactly the goal the Court of Appeal is trying to achieve in their “Riding the Circuit” campaign. 

“It’s only fair to students at ULM to be able to see how our court works because we’re basically the forgotten court,” Stephens said.

Stephens expressed how most people know about their local trial courts and the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., but they forget that to get from a trial court to the Supreme Court, cases have to go through the Court of Appeal.

Judge Jeff Robinson remarked how riding the circuit brings the Court of Appeal back to its roots. 

“The circuit court judges used to ride the circuit on horses, and they would go to the different towns and hear cases and hear appeals,” Robinson said.

In modern times, riding the circuit looks a little different, but it still gives the same flair as the past. 

The cases most likely looked different to most people in attendance. In contrast to trial courts where juries are chosen and evidence is shown, a court of appeal is only the attorney and a panel of judges. 

Courts of Appeal only look at possible mistakes in law that took place in trial courts. For example, one of the cases argued on Tuesday raised the question on whether or not a certain witness’s testimony should be factored into the final decision of the case. 

The Appeals Court can decide to overturn decisions of the trial courts or maintain the original verdict. After the Appeals Court makes its decisions, cases only have one other option—the Supreme Court of the U.S. 

If the Supreme Court denies to hear a case, the decision made by the Court of Appeals is final. 

Watching the Second Circuit Court of Appeal was a great opportunity for students at ULM. The Second Circuit services 20 parishes in North Louisiana. 

Shelby Moore, a sophomore psychology major was happy to be able to see such an important part of the judicial system in action.    

“Seeing the arguments was a great opportunity to learn more about the court system and exercise my right to sit in on these cases,” Moore said.

Judge Stephens encouraged those who could not make it this time to attend another session to learn more about the judicial process. He suggested for students and community members to sit on jury trials and see what the system is doing.

The judges of the Second Circuit hope to continue their “Riding the Circuit” campaign for years to continue with plans to visit Grambling in the Spring and Louisiana Tech next fall.