SUU Students witness appellate court trial on campus

CEDAR CITY — The Gilbert Great Hall at Southern Utah University transformed into a courtroom Thursday morning where three Utah Court of Appeals trials were heard — two civil, one criminal — for the benefit of education.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Christopher Ballard presented the states case to the Utah Court of Appeals, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Utah Assistant Attorney General Christopher Ballard presented the states case to the Utah Court of Appeals, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

During convocations class the court heard the State of Utah v. Abisai Martinez-Castellanos, a criminal case in which the defendant was appealing a guilty verdict, asking for a new trial. Before that however, there were two civil cases that were open to the public: Bresee v. Barton and Jenco LC v. Perkins Coie LLP.

In each case the defense and the prosecution were allotted 15 minutes each to sum up their positions and answer any questions the judges may have about their plea.

Convocations is a class at SUU designed to engage student’s minds by soliciting contemporary leaders, thinkers and innovators to present new and thoughtful ideas. The class is open to the general public as well.

Thursday’s convocation became the second such event collaborated between SUU and the Utah Court of Appeals, Associate Presiding Judge Gregory K. Orme said.

“(This is) the sixth time that the court has come to Cedar City to hear oral arguments,” Orme said. “It’s the second time we’ve been on the campus of Southern Utah University.”

The elegant chamber of the Gilbert Great Hall was brimming with an audience made of community members, students, educators, administrators and civic leaders — all there to witness a court hearing they would typically have to travel to Salt Lake City to watch.

“This is a special occasion,” Taylor Porter, a junior political science major from Southern California said. Porter is pursuing a career in law, and currently works as an intern in a St. George court.

Though he has witnessed many court hearings during his internship, Porter said, this was his first appellate court hearing and he learned a lot from the experience.

Students listen intently to State of Utah vs. Abisai Martinez-Castellanos during the live appeal trial held in the Great Gilbert Hall at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Students listen intently to State of Utah vs. Abisai Martinez-Castellanos during the live appeal trial held in the Great Gilbert Hall at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

“I think that it’s got to be a lot of pressure on the lawyers,” Porter said. “Because they only have 15 minutes to answer to any questions that they have (about the case), but I think it’s an effective process, because the way they do it is not like a 15-minute speech, it’s like a dialogue.”

After watching the process Thursday, Kendrik Gibson, a freshman business management major from Mapleton said he is considering a future in law for the first time.

“I haven’t really had a chance to observe a lot of courts,” he said. “So to be able to sit down and actually check it out and see how it works is pretty fascinating to me.”

The reality is nothing like TV episodes of “Law & Order,” Eric Davis, a junior political science major from Phoenix, Ariz., said, adding that he believes that is the impression most people today have of what the inside of a courtroom is actually like.

Mallory Mills, a junior accounting major from Fruit Heights who was there for an extra credit assignment, said she was happy she attended. She is a numbers girl who would probably never consider a career in the field of law, Mills said, but witnessing the process was definitely an eye-opening experience.

“Business law is the first experience that I’ve had with anything ‘law’ other than the law shows on TV,” Mills said, adding that had she not taken business law this semester she would have been lost as to what was happening.  

The Great Gilbert Hall, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
The Great Gilbert Hall, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Given the cozy conditions and the warm welcome at SUU, Orme said, it is quite likely the university could become their go-to location for their educational travels in Cedar City from now on.

“Given the comfortable seats that you all have,” Orme said. “And the lovely bench that we have here (and) the good acoustics … it’s very likely that when we next come to Cedar City that it will be on the campus of Southern Utah University.”

The Utah Court of Appeals travels to areas outside of Salt Lake City as often as possible to give the public-at-large an opportunity to observe how an appeals court operates, Judge Stephen Roth said. They haven’t done it as much in the past two years and they are working on changing that, he said.

“I think it’s useful (for people) to see how their institutions actually function,” Roth said.

When he was a trial court judge he often experienced the growth in appreciation jurors had for the system and how it operates after participating on a jury panel, Roth said.

“You know, every juror has a story about how somebody found out they were called to jury duty and was telling them how they could avoid it,” he said. “I’ve never had a juror say that after they served on the jury. They all say, ‘I’m so glad I’ve had this experience, because I’ve learned so much.’”

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Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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