Supreme opportunity: State's top court gives Columbine students front-row seat to justice

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By AJ Vicens

Justice may be blind, but Columbine High School students had their eyes opened to the judicial process when the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases in the school auditorium on Oct. 1.

The session was part of Courts in the Community, an educational outreach effort started by the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in 1986. The Supreme Court has heard arguments in high schools twice a year ever since.

"The program was developed to give Colorado high school students first-hand experience in how the Colorado judicial system works and illustrate how disputes are resolved in a democratic society," said Jon Sarche of the State Court Administrator's Office.

"It's interesting," said Sarah Bruning, a Columbine senior. "I like it. That's why I came." Bruning was one of several hundred students packed into the school's auditorium.

Bruning used her off-hour to come and check out the hearing. She said most of the students there had been talking in classes about the cases for a few days before the Supreme Court made its visit.

The students watched as oral arguments were presented in two cases. One involved a woman trying to sue the manufacturer of a tanning-bed fan that partially amputated two of her fingers when her hand inadvertently went into the blades. The other involved a convicted murder arguing that he should have had the right to direct his defense strategy.

Many of the students were there as part of their regular classes over the course of several hours that morning, but some came on their own.

"I was more interested in the murder case, because we had talked about it. But the whole thing was pretty neat," Bruning said.

While the hearings had interesting moments, they didn't necessarily translate to a high school setting. The audio system was spotty, leaving some of the participants inaudible at times. When the students couldn't hear whoever was speaking, they became quickly distracted.

The students tended to focus on the facts of each case rather than the broader legal questions involved. During question-and-answer sessions for students with the attorneys after each hearing, most asked about factual matters like why the woman would stick her hand in a fan, or how the man in the murder case could claim self-defense.

The attorneys took those questions and helped students to understand the broader implications of the cases.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.