Students were in awe of Minnesota Supreme Court justices

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 10/25/00.

The Paynesville Area High School government class received a once in a lifetime invitation recently. They had front row seats for a Minnesota Supreme Court case.

According to Jeff Youngs, their instructor, the students were in awe of the justices seated on stage in front of the auditorium.

Paynesville was one of 11 schools invited to Apollo High School in St. Cloud as the state's highest court heard an oral argument of an actual case, Terrance Lee Genin versus a 1996 Mercury Marquis.

Government students, who are also school newspaper editors, attended the pre-hearing press conference with the justices: (front) Stephanie Hoeft, Tina Barney, Michelle Wolbeck; (back) Brett Bork, Steph Krupke, and Crystal Humbert.

Youngs explained that in the case the students heard, Genin's car was confiscated in an alleged driving under the influence (DUI) incident in Anoka County. The county gave him notice he would be forfeiting his vehicle.

The vehicle was impounded by a private service. At trial time, no one seemed to know where the car was located.

Genin is arguing that he should not have to pay interest on the storing fee for his car as the amount is well over the value of the vehicle.

The St. Cloud event marked the 12th in-school court session for the Supreme Court.

Hearing the case in St. Cloud were Justice Russell Anderson, Justice Edward Stringer, Justice Alan Page, Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, Justice Paul Anderson, Justice James Gilbert, and Justice Joan Ericksen Lancaster.

Security was very tight, Youngs said. Adults and students, alike, were held on buses and allowed to enter the building at a designated time. Everyone had to pass through metal detectors and armed guards.

The schools attending were given a visitor's guide ahead of time so students would have an idea of what to expect. The guide explained the general procedures of the court, participants in the courtroom, and suggestions for proper decorum.

The suggestions included: no food, drink, or gum; no hats or caps; no one remains standing while the court is in session; no signs or banners; no unnecessary conversation; no reading of newspapers or magazines; pagers and cellular telephones must be turned off; and no tape recorders, video cameras, or still cameras shall be used in the courtroom unless they are media equipment.

"The procedures that were followed were quite dry, but the method with which the lawyers presented, defended, and rebutted their case . . . made the whole experience worthwhile," observed Ryan Flanders, a trip participant.

A few days before the field trip, Youngs received the news that there was going to be a press conference and he was allowed to have student reporters attend. He chose to have the six editors from the Bulldog Bark staff as the reporters who would attend the press conference.

Youngs felt the press conference was a very special part of the event before the case was heard. The students had the opportunity to sit less than 10 feet away from the justices.

Not having much time to put together questions, Youngs and Michelle Andersen, the Bark advisor, tried to help the editors think up questions to ask. Senior Stephanie Hoeft was the first student to ask a question during the press conference. Her question, directed at all of the justices, was "given that teens tend to be negatively portrayed in the media, what have your actual experiences been with students? "

Several of the justices responded to Stephanie's question by saying that they had faith in today's youth, and that most of today's young people are good people. Michelle Wolbeck thought the whole Supreme Court experience was stressful, exciting, and interesting all at the same time.

Wolbeck asks question Wolbeck was another one of the students who had the opportunity to ask a question of the justices. Her question was directed at Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, and dealt with the special qualifications needed to be a chief justice.

At right, Michelle Wolbeck asks a question at the pre-hearing press conference.

"I was trying not to stumble over the words," she said.

"The stressful part was preparing for the press conference, learning about the case, and asking a question of the Chief Justice," Wolbeck said.

She also thought it was exciting to be in the press conference and meet with the justices one on one. Even though it wasn't a very formal ordeal, it was exciting.

Wolbeck felt the chief justice answered her question really well...probably offering more information than expected, she said.

"The justices were very open and communicated on a personal level with the students," Youngs said. The justices were also impressed with the students who attended the court case.

Cory Schmitt thought the interview portion of the program was very interesting. "It was neat to see that the justices were people just like everyone else. I really thought that the trip was both interesting and educational," Cory added.

Junior Becca Rondeau found the most interesting part of the day was seeing how order was maintained in the court- room. "I was amazed that they didn't know where the car was," Rondeau said of the case.

Senior Brett Bork never expected to attend a supreme court hearing while in high school.

"When Mr. Youngs told the class we would be going to hear an oral argument, I was very excited and nervous," she said. The students had no idea what to expect. Bork thought the whole class would sit in a large auditorium with hundreds of other students and listen to the justices and leave.

"Needless to say, I was not exactly correct," Bork added.

Bork was among the editors. Other editors of the Bulldog Bark are Stephanie Hoeft, Crystal Humbert, Tina Barney, Michelle Wolbeck, and Steph Krupke. "One of the hardest parts of this was not being allowed to ask any questions about the case," Bork said. "I was hoping if I asked a question the justices wouldn't think it was dumb."

Bork noticed that there were five men and two women on the Supreme Court. "That really made my day to learn the Chief Justice was a woman. I feel that this gives women in America a lot more self-esteem," she said.

The justice that impressed the students the most was Alan Page. "It shows that football players are very smart and can become one of the most powerful people in the state," Bork added.

"The school district can be proud of our delegation," Youngs said. "They were very gracious and respectful during everything that took place."

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