In a first for both the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and Temple, the court heard oral arguments in front of a student audience in a university setting.
The Commonwealth Court is a full appellate
circuit court that travels throughout the state to hold trials, though hearings are rarely heard anywhere but in specific courtrooms.
“It was a way to bring the court to the students,” said Dr. Sam Hodge, chair of Legal Studies and one of the organizers of the event. “We gave teachers the briefs, and their students researched the cases, took notes and will write papers on it. It let them become a part of the argument.”
The seven hearings presented to the court included a case concerning outlawing common law marriage, which has the potential
to change the way that unions are legally viewed in Pennsylvania.
Other cases involved interstate DUIs, the building of a crematorium on a historic cemetery in a residential neighborhood and the constitutionality of having a non-attorney represent an unemployed person in a workman’s compensation case.
The cases, which were heard Nov. 15, were all regularly scheduled hearings from the Philadelphia region. The judges heard arguments from both sides on each case and then deliberated in private.
Hodge began planning the event several
months ago by holding meetings with the court administrator, who decides the court’s schedule.
“They were very willing to do it,” Hodge said. “They were very receptive.”
“The purpose was for students to be able to see first hand how it’s done instead of reading it in a book,” said Kathryn Killian, president of the pre-law fraternity, Pi Alpha Delta. “We mainly wanted them to see how judges and lawyers interact.”
Chris Park, a sophomore economics major and member of Pi Alpha Delta, said he hoped students would gain a more realistic understanding of court proceedings after watching the hearings.
“A lot of people are colored by what they see on TV or on ‘Law and Order,'” Park said.
The court session, which was held in the Student Center, was open to all students and had a larger than expected turnout, with every seat filled during some points of the proceedings.
About 1,200 to 1,500 students witnessed hearings throughout the event, said William Lederer, court administrator of the Commonwealth Court.
“We were stunned at the turnout,” Lederer
said. “We are delighted that students have taken this level of interest in court and the law. I thought it was very successful.”
Fox School of Business Dean M. Moshe Porat said these hearings could become an annual
“It’s a phenomenal experience for students
to have a high court here,” Porat said. “The fact that we had almost 1,500 people here from many majors is a testimony to the way the law is mandated in real life, [and that] is something people are interested in.
“The essence of a successful country is law,” Porat said. “Understand how law is transacted, and we all become better citizens.”
Vicky Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.