WHEELING – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will take its show on the road next week.

The Justices will hear arguments in two cases in front of high school students starting at 10 a.m. Sept. 6 at West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling. Students from public and private Ohio County high schools have been invited to attend. The public also is invited to attend if space permits, but priority seating will be given to students. 

The visit is part of the court’s LAWS program (Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students), which was established in 1999 as a partnership between the court system, schools, the state Bar and the community to teach students about the judicial branch of government. About 5,700 high school and college students in 33 counties have participated in the program. 

Students study cases on the docket before the court date with the help of area attorneys who volunteer their time to visit classrooms and explain the appellate documents and applicable law. On the court date, students hear arguments in the cases they have studied and then, after the Justices leave the room, question the attorneys who argued the case. 

“Independence Hall was chosen as the location this year to enhance students’ understanding of the founding not only of the state, but the judiciary,” Chief Justice Allen H. Loughry II said. “It is an enormous honor to hold court arguments in such a historic location and to spend the day with so many bright and energetic student leaders of tomorrow.” 

In 1861, representatives of 39 western Virginia counties gathered at Independence Hall to discuss their opposition to Virginia’s secession. By a unanimous vote, they authorized the establishment of the “Restored Government of Virginia” to be loyal to the Union. On Aug. 20, 1861, the Wheeling Convention agreed to form the State of Kanawha out of the western counties. Voters approved this ordinance on Oct. 24, 1861. 

A Constitutional Convention then assembled in Wheeling to frame a Constitution for a separate and independent state. In April 1862,  voters in the State of Kanawha approved the new Constitution and a name change to West Virginia. On May 13, 1862, the General Assembly [the Restored Government] of Virginia consented to the formation of West Virginia from within the boundaries of Virginia. The plans formed and debated inside the halls of the Wheeling Custom House were brought to fruition on April 20, 1863, when President Lincoln issued a proclamation making West Virginia the 35th state.

The proclamation was effective sixty days later, on June 20, 1863. 

Just weeks later, on July 9, 1863, Independence Hall was also the site where Ralph Lazier Berkshire, James Henry Brown, and William Harrison were chosen to become the first three Justices to serve on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. 

“For many, the judicial branch is the least understood branch of government, and LAWS is a way for us to show our citizens how it works,” Loughry said. “We want to convey to students how important the judicial branch is to their lives.

“Even if students personally have never been involved in a court case, they should know how our branch of government can and does work on their behalf. Courts decide issues involving private contracts, divorces, child custody, abuse and neglect, landlord-tenant disputes, workers' compensation, and criminal matters, among others. 

“The peaceful resolution of private disagreements and the court system’s role in judging criminal cases are foundations of our democratic form of government."

The two cases that will be heard on the Rule 19 Argument Docket on Sept. 6 are: 

* State of West Virginia v. Michael L. Blickenstaff, No. 16-0666. The petitioner was convicted of felony kidnapping after a trial by jury and sentenced to serve a term of life imprisonment in the state penitentiary, without mercy, by order entered on April 5, 2016. He is appealing the order of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, entered on June 15, 2016, denying his motions for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial. 

* Kevin Hanson v. Larry Keeling, Jr., No. 16-0799. The petitioner is appealing the circuit court’s denial of his motion for a new trial in respondent’s action for damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident. Petitioner’s motion for a new trial was based on the circuit court’s conduct at the trial and its ruling allowing respondent to admit petitioner’s work product into evidence at trial.

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