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Students see appeals court in action
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker High School students got a firsthand look at Oregon's legal system when three Oregon Court of Appeals judges visited the school Tuesday.
Rick T. Haselton, presiding judge, Virginia L. Linder and Robert D. Wollheim heard appeals arguments in three cases, including one from Union County decided by Baker County Circuit Court Judge Greg Baxter. The Court of Appeals panel convened in the BHS Auditorium before the entire student body.
Seniors Nathan Defrees, student body president, and Matt Hensley, vice president, said they appreciated the opportunity to see the Appeals Court in action. Both have represented BHS in mock trial competition.
"I think it's interesting," Hensley said.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Defrees added.
Senior Lessa Bailey was interested in the techniques the judges used to question the attorneys to help them better understand the issues.
"I just think it's really cool to have this opportunity to watch," she said. "I like all the Matlock' shows and to see it in real life is really cool."
During the question-and-answer session afterward, the students learned that the judges all first completed seven years of college and worked as attorneys for at least 10 years before being appointed by the governor and then facing election to their positions. They earn $103,000 per year.
But it's the opportunity to serve the state and its residents, and not the money, that draws the judges to their jobs, said Haselton, who grew up in Albany
"Everyone on the Court of Appeals really feels it is a privilege to serve people," he said.
The judges' educations are not limited to academic study, but also include a wide range of life experiences, Haselton said. In relating to their BHS audience, all three said their work histories had included bucking hay bales.
Judge Baxter helped bring the three-judge panel to Baker City after hearing of the opportunity at a meeting he attended earlier this year.
"I told them Baker was the best- looking county around and they said they would come," Baxter said after Tuesday's session.
The effort was coordinated by Patti Alexander, BHS assistant principal.
"Judge Baxter called and said the Court of Appeals was interested in bringing this opportunity to Baker High School," she said. "We said great.' This was a great opportunity for our kids to witness the law system up close and personal."
Earl Tarbell of Elgin, who will be 90 next week, also was enthusiastic about the opportunity to watch the appeal of a case in which he was involved argued in Baker City.
"It's a lot better than Salem that's a long ways away," he said.
Tarbell is asking the Court of Appeals to review decisions made in a Union County contract dispute and to dismiss the case. The plaintiffs, Matthew and Molly Bingaman, also seek a review of the decisions and enforcement of their contract with Tarbell for the sale of three parcels of farmland.
Tarbell said he wasn't opposed to having his case argued before a large audience of high school students.
"I think it's a good idea," he said. "It gives them an idea of how things work."
And he was impressed with the attention the students gave the court session.
"I've never seen kids so quiet in all my life," he said afterward.
The other arguments presented Tuesday involved a post-conviction relief in a murder case on the grounds that the petitioner's lawyer was "constitutionally inadequate," and an appeal of a decision by the Adult and Family Services Division to end Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to a family.
The judges will issue their rulings on the cases later after discussing the arguments among themselves, Haselton told the BHS audience.
They will either uphold the earlier court decisions and issue an "affirmance without opinion" or issue a written opinion of their decision, he added. The results will be published and are available online. Copies of the decisions also will be delivered to the school.
Anthony Johnson, BHS social science teacher, said he hoped Tuesday's session would help the students better understand how the court system works.
"And maybe give them an appreciation of the role it plays in government today in resolving disputes that arise between various parties," he said. "I think it's a wonderful experience for them."