Justices to hear cases in Princeton

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 11, 2008

PRINCETON -– The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will hear arguments in three criminal cases and one civil case on April 15 at the Mercer County Courthouse in Princeton in front of an audience of about 670 Mercer County high school and college students.

PRINCETON -– The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will hear arguments in three criminal cases and one civil case on April 15 at the Mercer County Courthouse in Princeton in front of an audience of about 670 Mercer County high school and college students.

The students are coming to the courthouse to watch the Court in action as part of LAWS, an acronym for Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students. LAWS is a partnership between the court system, schools, the Bar and the community.

LAWS teaches students about the judicial branch of our government. Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis began the program when she was chief justice in 1999. Since then more than 2,700 high school and college students in seventeen counties have participated.

This year, students from Montcalm High School, Bluefield High School, Pikeview High School, Princeton High School, Concord University and Bluefield State College are scheduled to attend. Their teachers came to a training session with Supreme Court personnel and Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope and Judge William Sadler in February. The teachers received information about the state and federal court systems, suggested exercises for students and summaries of the cases their classes will hear. Later, volunteer attorneys from the area also met with students to discuss the court system and the cases.

On April 15, students will hear oral arguments in the case they have studied and then will meet with the attorneys who argued the case in a "debriefing" session. The attorneys and students also will have an informal lunch with the Supreme Court justices.

The Supreme Court held the first LAWS program in Beckley in 1999. Other LAWS programs have been held in Clarksburg, Huntington, Wheeling, Summersville, Martinsburg, Parkersburg, Charleston and Romney.

While the Supreme Court's session in Princeton is for the benefit and education of high school and college students, there will be limited seating for the public. However, priority will be given to seating students.

Persons wishing to attend should 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.

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.

The Court's schedule in Princeton will be:

* 10 a.m. Coleman v. R.M. Logging et. al., No. 33452. (Students from Montcalm High School and Concord University.) The family of a 24-year-old timber cutter who was struck in the head and killed by a falling tree limb appeals from summary judgment in a deliberate intent workers' compensation action. The West Virginia workers' compensation law provides that if a plaintiff proves certain, specified facts, that an employer had "deliberate intent" to cause harm to an employee, that employer loses immunity the workers' compensation law provides. It is a subjective standard; plaintiffs must prove the employer knew of a dangerous condition, not just that the employer should have known. R.M. Logging filed the motion for summary judgment in circuit court stating that it had no subjective realization of any unsafe working condition and that Coleman was adequately trained. Fayette County Circuit Judge Paul M. Blake Jr. granted summary judgment. Coleman was killed on December 2, 2003.

* 10:45 State v. Stamm, No. 33505. (Students from Bluefield High School, PikeView High School, and Bluefield State College.) David Gabriel Stamm appeals from a felony conviction for failure to pay child support. Stamm was ordered to pay monthly child support in February 2004. In May 2006 he was indicted for failure to pay child support for 12 consecutive months; he had not paid for eighteen months. During his trial he asked Harrison County Circuit Judge James A. Matish to acquit him because he said prosecutors did not prove he had a reasonable ability to pay. Judge Matish denied the request. Stamm was sentenced to one to three years in prison and is currently on work release. Stamm challenges the constitutionality of the child support law, alleging it shifts the burden of proof of a material element of the offense – the reasonable ability to pay child support – from the State to the defense.

* 12:45 p.m. State v. Slater, No. 33659. (Students from Princeton High School.) Joshua Lee Slater appeals from felony convictions for kidnaping, burglary, wanton endangerment, and domestic violence. Slater alleges five errors, including insufficient evidence, failure to answer questions from deliberating jurors and a Sandstrom error. Slater was 23 on November 28, 2005, when he lived with Angela Walls, 22, and their two children, a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old, in Kanawha County. The charges against him stem from a domestic dispute in which he allegedly held Walls against her will and threatened to kill her with a gun. She fled through a bedroom window with the children, went to her parents' house and convinced them to leave with her. He followed her to that house and is accused of breaking a window to get in. He saw police arriving and ran away; he was arrested a short time later. Slater was sentenced to life with mercy for kidnaping, plus sixteen years for the other charges, all sentences to run consecutively. He argues the sentence is so disproportionate to the crime that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

* 1:30 p.m. State v. Brooks, No. 33662. (Students from Princeton High School.) James Lee Brooks appeals from felony convictions for first-degree robbery, conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery, malicious assault, and conspiracy to commit malicious assault. The Supreme Court granted review on one potential assignment of error related to the defendant's transfer from juvenile to adult status. The issue, one of first impression for the Supreme Court, is: When a juvenile is transferred to adult status, is the juvenile transferred or is only the charge transferred? Brooks' transfer hearing concerned only a charge of first-degree robbery. After he was in adult court, a grand jury also charged Brooks with three other crimes and he was subsequently convicted on all four charges. Brooks was one of three juveniles charged in an attack on Earnest Serenella on a Morgantown street in the early morning hours of February 12, 2005. Mr. Serenella remains in a persistent vegetative state, according to the State's brief filed in this case.

* 2:00 p.m. Court adjourns.

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