CHARLESTON -- More than 300 high school and college students from the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties are expected to attend Supreme Court arguments on April 17 at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Romney.
The Court's program called LAWS -- Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students -- is a partnership between the court system, schools, local Bars and the community.
LAWS teaches high school and college students about the legal system. With the assistance of local attorneys, circuit judges and Supreme Court staff, teachers help students study an individual case and then students attend oral arguments in that case.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis began the LAWS program when she was chief justice in 1999. Since then more than 2,400 high school and college students in 14 counties have participated.
Another Justice heaped praise on the program.
"It generates so much interest with the students," Justice Spike Maynard said. "Every time we've had a LAWS program, these students start calling soon thereafter. We come back to Charleston and discuss the case and eventually write an opinion.
"Well, these kids starting calling the office asking about the cases they heard. They want to know what's going on with it, why the opinion hasn't been issued yet, things like that."
Maynard explained how the program works.
"The high school students don't just come in cold to the court and watch the theater of it all," he said. "The cases are selected a couple of months in advance. Court staff contacts local lawyers, and they get information about the case. The lawyers then go out to the kids and go over what is going to happen. They prepare them for the arguments.
"Then, the students come in and watch the arguments. Once the arguments are over, the lawyers and teachers work with the students again about the case and what happened."
While the Supreme Court's session in Romney is for the benefit and education of high school and college students, there will be limited seating for the public. Priority will be given to seating the invited students.
Persons wishing to attend are asked to come to the courtroom at least one-half hour before the time the case they are interested in is scheduled. No cameras, cell phones, electronic equipment or weapons of any kind -- including pocket knives -- will be allowed in the courtroom. Purses, brief cases, and back packs should be avoided as each will be subject to a security check.
The oral argument session will be broadcast live on the Supreme Court Web site at http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/.
The schedule for April 17:
At 10 a.m. students from Moorefield High School will hear arguments in Jerome E. Burch et al. v. Nedpower Mount Storm, et al.
At 10:45 a.m. students from Potomac State College will hear arguments in State of W.Va. v. Denver A. Youngblood, Jr.
At 12:45 p.m. students from East Hardy High School and Pendleton County High School will hear arguments in Hartley Hill Hunt Club et al. v. County Commission of Ritchie County, et al.
At 1:30 p.m. students from Hampshire County High School, the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College will hear arguments in State of W.Va. v. Brian Daniel Murray
Following each case, students will meet with the attorneys who argued that case. Attorneys and students also will eat lunch with the Supreme Court justices and 22nd Circuit Court Judge Donald H. Cookman. Students later will receive a copy of the Supreme Court opinion in the case they studied.
"We all divide up and go sit and chat with the students at lunch," Maynard said. "A lot of them have career questions, but some want to know about the case. Of course, we can't talk about that with them."
Maynard said the LAWS program is another way of showing state residents what the Supreme Court does.
"Part of the reason is that the public don't know a lot about us," he said. "I sometimes like to call this Court the Invisible Court."
Maynard said the program, as well as the Robes To School program and the regular trips to colleges each year, are interesting and fun for the Justices.
"We need to do everything we can to open the court up to the people of this state," he said. "What happens in this court affects people's lives."
Key parts of the LAWS educational materials, including case summaries and briefs, are available on the West Virginia Supreme Court Web site at http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/LAWS/lawsCover.htm.