Kanawha students to participate in Supreme Court LAWS project

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 3, 2006

Chief Justice Robin Davis

CHARLESTON – Nearly 500 high school students from Kanawha County will attend oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Charleston on April 11-12 as part of the Supreme Court's eighth annual LAWS project.

LAWS, an acronym for Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students, is an innovative program to educate West Virginia students about the judicial branch of government by allowing them to observe the progression of an actual appellate case.

"LAWS is a way to educate our young people about the judicial branch of government and make them better citizens," said Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis.

In 2006, designated by the Chief Justice as The Year of the Child, LAWS is as important to Davis as it was when initiated by her in 1999.

As part of LAWS, the justices of West Virginia's highest court will hear oral argument in eight cases. Students and their teachers will be divided into eight groups, with each group hearing one case. Students will then meet for a question and answer session with the attorneys who argued the cases they observed.

The students and their teachers are invited to join the justices of the Supreme Court for a luncheon in the Gaston Caperton training center on the Capitol grounds, sponsored by the Kanawha County Bar Association.

Local high schools participating in LAWS include Capital, Charleston Catholic, George Washington, Herbert Hoover, Nitro, Riverside, Saint Albans, Sissonville, and South Charleston.

Teachers of the students involved in LAWS attended a five-hour professional development session taught by Supreme Court staff on February 10 at the Supreme Court in Charleston.

Teachers were provided with notebooks of materials to use in their classrooms, including suggested activities and LAWS handbooks for each student. Volunteer local attorneys have been visiting the classrooms of the students participating in LAWS to review the cases. After the justices decide the cases, the students will receive copies of the opinions.

The following cases are scheduled for the LAWS docket: 1) State of W.Va. v. Matthew Bolen; 2) Helen L. Porter v. Grant County Board of Education; 3) State of W.Va. v. Earl Ray McCoy, Jr.; 4) Donna M. Richmond v. Barry A. Levin, M.D.; 5) State of W.Va. v. Gary Inscore; 6) Charles Hawkins v. United States Sports Association, Inc.; 7) State of W.Va. v. James Allen Mechling; and 8) Jackie L. Crouch v. W.Va. Division of Motor Vehicles.

Each participating school is assigned to focus on a particular case. For example, Riverside High School is studying a criminal appeal from a Cabell County Circuit Court .

The defendant, Matthew Bolen was found guilty by a jury of first degree sexual assault in violation of W.Va. Code §61-8b-3.

The second case, that students from Herbert Hoover and Sissonville High schools will be observing, is before the Court on two certified questions from the Circuit Court of Grant County regarding immunity of the Grant County Board of Education under the West Virginia Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act or the public duty doctrine.

Students from Saint Albans High School will be observing the third case, which is an appeal of a criminal case tried in the Circuit Court of Lincoln County. The defendant was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation of mercy.

The fourth case, that students from Nitro High School will be observing, is an appeal of a civil case from a non-unanimous jury verdict in a medical malpractice action. The trial was held in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County before a twelve-person jury pursuant to the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act, specifically W.Va. Code §55-7B-6d. At trial, the twelve member jury deliberated and returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, Dr. Levin, by a vote of 9-3.

Captial High School will be observing the fifth case; it is an appeal out of Mercer County Circuit Court. This case involves the interplay between several different types of law, including state and federal constitutional law, judicial decisions of both the United States Supreme Court and West Virginia Supreme Court, and a federal compact between the states. The central issue is whether the state of West Virginia acted properly in revoking probation of an individual after his term of probation had expired.

South Charleston High School will be observing the sixth case; it is an appeal out of Marion County. Charles and Sheila Hawkins appeal an adverse summary judgement ruling by the circuit court that dismissed United States Sports Association, Inc., from their lawsuit.

The seventh case will be observed by George Washington High School and is an appeal on conviction for the misdemeanor offense of domestic battery, with a sentence of six months, imposed following a bench trial in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County. The elements of the offense of domestic battery are set forth in West Virginia Code §61-2-28(a).

Charleston Catholic High School will be observing the eighth case; it is an appeal out of Raleigh County. This is an appeal of a civil case by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Department of Motor Vehicles appeals the circuit court's order that reversed the Commissioner's final order revoking the drivers license of Jackie L. Crouch. The circuit court's reversal was on the basis that the State failed to establish jurisdiction in the underlying administrative hearing before the commissioner.

The arguments on April 11th will begin at 10 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 1:30 p.m. The arguments on April 12th will begin at 9 a.m., 9:40 a.m., 10:20 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. Limited public seating is available.

For more information about attending the arguments, contact Kandi Greter at (304) 558-0145 or Eydie Nash at (304) 558-2601. Members of the public also may watch and listen to the arguments through the Internet at the Supreme Court Web site at www.state.wv.us/wvsca.

Key parts of the LAWS educational materials, including more detailed case summaries and briefs, are available on the Supreme Court Web site.

The Supreme Court held the first annual LAWS program in Beckley in 1999.

Other LAWS programs have been held in Clarksburg, Huntington, Wheeling, Summersville, Martinsburg, and Parkersburg. About 2,600 students have been educated about the court system through LAWS since the program began.

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