A West Virginia University College of Law student speaks with state Supreme Court justices during a recent Baker Cup competition. (Photo courtesy of WVU)
CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court of Appeals again is taking its show on the road.
The Justices will hear arguments in four cases at West Virginia University's College of Law starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The arguments will be open to the public and can be seen live on the Supreme Court's Web site at http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca.
"Although people can watch us online when we hear cases at the Capitol and elsewhere, we want to make the judicial branch of government as accessible as possible by going to locations around West Virginia," Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis said. "And my fellow justices and I enjoy meeting people who come to watch us work."
The Court traditionally travels to Morgantown each spring, this being the 17th such trip. It is one of several times each year the Court hears cases outside of Charleston. The Court on April 17 will hear cases at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Romney as part of the LAWS educational program for high school students. The justices heard cases at Marshall University in September 2006 and at Wheeling Jesuit University in October 2006.
Davis said the trip to Morgantown always is a good one.
"The students get to see the Supreme Court in action," said Davis, a graduate of the WVU College of Law. "They get to see how lawyers interact with the Court.
"It's a great experience for everyone."
Justice Spike Maynard agrees.
"It's an interesting day," said Maynard, also a WVU College of Law graduate. "The nicest thing about it is the moot court competition. It's always exciting to watch young law students who really are very smart and good advocates.
"It's like watching gladiators, I guess. These people are very aggressive with their arguments. That moot court is a great competition."
Justice Joseph Albright concurred as well.
"There are two facets to the trip," said Albright, who attended Notre Dame. "The first, of course, is that the students get to see real cases argued. And we get a chance to visit with them. And second is the moot court competition. It's an honor to be asked to come up there to do the judging. You see some wonderful young budding attorneys."
Besides a chance to get out and see citizens elsewhere in the state, Justice Brent Benjamin said a highlight for him is the Moot Court competition.
"We get excited about WVU, not just to hear the cases and let the law students see us, but to judge Moot Court," he said. "These students really prepare well, and they present well. It's fun to see just how much heart and effort they put into their presentations. Some of the student presentations are of the same caliber of those presenting to us on a daily basis."
Albright said any hassle of making a road trip is handled by the court staff, particularly Court Clerk Rory Perry.
"The hassle is handled admirably by our clerk," he said. "I don't mind the out-of-town trips. They're helpful to the general public to see what this court is really like."
College of Law Dean John Fisher says the annual appearances make both a vivid impression and a lasting learning experience.
"It's important that students have the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the legal process," Fisher said. "For most of our first-year students, this day means that it's the first time they've seen that process in person, with the lawyers arguing and the judges interjecting. It's a real educational opportunity."
Fisher said nothing can compare for students arguing a case before the Supreme Court in the Baker Cup competition.
The competition was created in 1926 by George Coleman Baker, an 1886 graduate of the College of Law. His son, Judge Charles Baker, followed as an alumnus in 1913. In honor of both men, Judge Baker's daughters, Betty Sue Armistead and Mary-Jane Baker English, established the George C. Baker Cup Endowment in 1980.
"It's something a second-year law student is definitely not going to forget," Fisher said. "It's exciting, anxiety-producing and rewarding, all at once. And that's even for experienced lawyers. Our students really learn, and that's what it's all about."
Only four of the five Justices will take part in the WVU trip. Justice Larry Starcher is on vacation in Europe next week, according to court officials.