ADA — Future lawyers got a courtroom seat right in their own law school Wednesday as the 3rd District Court of Appeals heard arguments in two cases at Ohio Northern University.
Afterward, students were allowed to ask the judges and participating attorneys questions on just about any topic except the cases just argued.
“If you could give one piece of advice to yourself while still in law school what would it be?” one student asked.
Judge Stephen Shaw responded, “Have more fun,” before explaining he had all the fun he could stand. Shaw, the senior judge on the court known more for his serious nature then told the students about how the seed was planted to be an appellate court judge.
He attended a similar demonstration where three judges conducted exercises with students as if they were in a courtroom.
“That just pinpointed the exact arena I wanted to be in,” Shaw said.
The appellate court takes its hearings on the road from time to time as part of an educational opportunity. The court covers 17 counties in this area of the state. Ohio Northern University law school is a popular spot to give law students a chance to see how the practice of law happens in the real world.
Another student asked what was most frustrating to the appellate court judges.
Judge Vernon Preston said he didn’t particularly like attorneys arguing before the court to refer to the panel as “you guys.” But he said the most irksome thing was unprepared attorneys.
“It’s really the job of attorneys to bring that trial alive to us and help us understand what went on and help us really get a flavor of the evidence,” he said.
One student asked the attorneys participating and the judges about a game plan when arguing before an appellate court.
Judge John Willamowski said attorneys need to be thorough in their briefs but should not try to cover every point in their briefs during arguments. He said judges will ask questions on issues they have which should be a big tip off the areas of concerns judges want clarification.
“You just found out what they are interested in and that’s what you want to talk about,” Willamowski said.
Willamowski said judges read briefs and know the cases before them so rehashing all the facts is wasting time.
“I like to cut to the chase on issues that are important,” he said.
Another student asked the benefit of working in a small law firm versus a large office or even as a prosecutor or defense attorney.
Van Wert County Prosecutor Eva Yarger, who argued an Allen County case as a special prosecutor, said she deals with the same attorneys on nearly a daily basis so it’s important to maintain a good working relationship. She said there are jobs in rural counties for attorneys and she has spent more than 20 years in a rewarding career.
The first case argued was over a lawsuit dismissed that was filed by the family of a woman killed in a Shelby County car crash. She ran a stop sign but there were questions whether foliage obstructed the stop sign. The trial court dismissed the case based on immunity for political subdivisions and the woman’s family is arguing there are exceptions to that law.
The second was a criminal case in which John Brentlinger II was convicted of various charges including felonious assault, aggravated robbery and kidnapping, that started with Brentlinger trying to take back a snowplow because the victim of the crime allegedly owed him money.
Brentlinger’s attorney argued several points of error including whether holding a gun on someone and giving that person orders for a short time is kidnapping, whether statements by a spouse someone else heard should have been allowed into evidence, and whether there is a venue conflict because part of the criminal conduct happened outside Allen County.
Brentlinger is serving a 25.5 year sentence.
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.