Chief Justice Spike Maynard talks with students after lunch at Princeton High School on Tuesday. The state Supreme Court heard cases at the Mercer County Courthouse as part of its LAWS Program. (Photo by Jeff Gentner, courtesy of the state Supreme Court)

Justice Robin Davis talks with students after lunch at Princeton High School on Tuesday. The state Supreme Court heard cases at the Mercer County Courthouse as part of its LAWS Program. (Photo by Jeff Gentner, courtesy of the state Supreme Court)

Chief Justice Spike Maynard talks with students after lunch at Princeton High School on Tuesday. The state Supreme Court heard cases at the Mercer County Courthouse as part of its LAWS Program. (Photo by Jeff Gentner, courtesy of the state Supreme Court)

PRINCETON- College and high school students who witness oral arguments of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals can't wait to hear who won.

Chief Justice Spike Maynard, after lunch with about 600 young people at Princeton High School on April 15, said students call his office for results of cases they have watched.

"They want to know what's the holdup," Maynard said. "Just be patient. It takes a few weeks to get an opinion ready."

Once a year, the Justices hear cases at places other than the Capitol for students in the Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students program, nicknamed "LAWS."

This year, the Court brought its work to the Mercer County courthouse. The Justices heard four cases with about 150 students on hand for each case.

After each argument, students shifted to another room to quiz attorneys about the case.

The day began with a case sure to grab the attention of the students, about the death of 24-year-old timber cutter Clarence Coleman.

Among dozens of young men in the court, some will likely cut timber for a living.

Heather Langeland of Charleston, representing Coleman's estate, argued that employer R. M. Logging did not deserve immunity from a lawsuit in Fayette County.

She asked the Court to reverse Circuit Judge Paul M. Blake, who granted summary judgment in favor of R. M. Logging.

Normally, workers compensation insurance immunizes employers. An employer loses immunity only if it acts with what the Court calls "deliberate intent."

That doesn't mean an employer deliberately intended to injure a worker. It means an employer subjectively realized and appreciated a danger but ignored it anyway.

Langeland said Coleman cut two trees that snagged. One tore loose and fell on him.

Justice Brent Benjamin asked what specific knowledge the employer had of the trees. Langeland said the employer failed to train Coleman.

Benjamin said, "Training has now become a condition of employment?"

Langeland said, "It is a prerequisite to employment, especially with a timber cutter."

She said, "The employer had no formal training or safety program."

Maynard said, "How much training does it take not to walk under snagged trees?"

Langeland said Coleman had insufficient training to recognize the hazard.

For R. M. Logging, Mary Sanders of Charleston said R. M. Logging is a small company and the owner knew Coleman all his life.

She said the company trains all timber cutters for two weeks.

"We will never know why he stepped back where he did," she said. "If he had walked five feet in any direction, it wouldn't have happened."

In rebuttal, Langeland said that if he had known moving five feet would save him, he would have moved.

After that civil case, the Justices heard three criminal cases. One defendant challenged a felony charge of failure to pay child support, one challenged a long sentence, and one challenged a transfer from juvenile to adult status.

After lunch in the high school gymnasium, Maynard told the students, "People in America are absolutely fascinated by the law. I am astonished at how much interest there is in our courts."

He said 21 regular television shows deal with courts. "There is no hour in the day you can't watch 'Law and Order,'" he said.

"We have the finest legal system on this earth," Maynard said. "Today you are directly and dramatically involved in what's going on in an appellate court."

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