By Deborah Alley Smith, Christian & Small Managing Partner and President of the Birmingham Bar Foundation
The only exposure most teenagers have to Alabama’s judicial system is negative. They see terrible things in the news about law enforcement, lawyers and our courts, but they need to understand that our judicial system protects the rights and liberties we enjoy in this country.
That is why the 2016 Alabama Appellate Courts Oral Arguments, hosted by Cumberland School of Law at Samford University and presented by the Birmingham Bar Foundation, is so important. This free-to-the-public event was held on Tuesday, Oct. 25, and approximately 950 high school and middle school students from around the state were in attendance, as well as numerous college and law school students.
The case before the Court of Criminal Appeals is an issue of first impression (i.e., a legal question that has not previously been addressed by the appellate courts), and will determine what evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction for aggravated cruelty to an animal. The issue before the Court of Civil Appeals is whether the Jefferson County Board of Health properly interpreted and applied its internal rules and regulations in declining Appellee GASP’s request for a hearing regarding ABC Coke’s Title V Permit. (If you would like to read the Cumberland Law Review’s summary of each of these cases, you can find those here.)
In the week before the oral arguments event, volunteer lawyers and judges visited students in their classrooms and shared information about the judicial process in general and the two specific cases. This is my favorite part of the initiative, because the kids typically are incredibly engaged. I’ve been impressed by their interest and focus – not only in the cases, but also in the judicial system and what it’s like to be an attorney.
Even many lawyers have never seen the Alabama appellate courts in session, so this is a unique opportunity for students, and it was great to see how interested they were throughout the course of the day.
Through the Oral Arguments program, we are able to give students an up-close-and-personal, inside look at a system they would not otherwise have the chance to see or engage with in a positive way. Our hope is that the students will come away from this annual event with a new appreciation of our judicial system. By presenting events like this, we are encouraging a whole new generation of responsible citizens – those who may one day be a valuable part of our judicial system.