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Appellate court makes rare visit to university

Appellate court makes rare visit to university

Six of the 10 justices of the 5th District Court of Appeals visited CSU Stanislaus on Thursday to answer student questions. From left to right, Charles Poochigian, Stephen Kane, Bert Levy, James Ar...

POSTED October 22, 2010 10:22 p.m.

Students at California State University, Stanislaus had a unique opportunity to learn about the justice system on Thursday when the school hosted a panel discussion of the 5th District Court of Appeal justices. Six of the justices visited the university on their way back from hearing oral arguments in Modesto. The last time the justices visited Stanislaus County was in 2006.

Associate Justice Jennifer Detjen, who was appointed to the 5th District Court of Appeals in 2010, said that this was her first time hearing a case outside of the court in Fresno. She said that the 5th appellate district occasionally travels to other counties as a form of community outreach. They heard arguments in Modesto on Thursday morning to make their process more accessible to the local community. Detjen said it gave students the opportunity to observe what 5th appellate district does without traveling too far.

“Fresno is a long way to go to listen to arguments,” Detjen said.

Although only three judges heard arguments in Modesto, six made the trip to answer questions in Modesto and at CSU Stanislaus. The panel discussion gave students and faculty the chance to ask questions about the 5th district court of appeals, the appeal process, and careers in law.

One student asked what the 5th District Court of Appeals actually does.

“When people ask me what I do, I start by telling them what trial courts do,” said Justice Dennis Cornell.

Cornell explained that when a case goes to a trial court a judge or jury makes a decision on that case. Essentially, one person wins and one person loses. The “loser” automatically has the right to appeal the decision. The 5th district court of appeals handles all appeals from Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties, with the exception of death penalty cases. Three judges sit together on a panel and review the written record of the case. They look for legal error and a miscarriage of justice. If those two qualifications are met then the panel has the option of overturning the decision. The panels change regularly within the 5th district, so that each judge will serve with every other judge at some point.

Students asked questions about judge’s lifetime appointments, the worth of oral arguments, and their opinion on proposition 8.  Presiding Justice James Ardaiz made the comparison between real courts and television shows like Judge Judy.

“I hate those shows. Judge Judy would be removed from the bench,” Ardaiz said.

Faculty asked questions about what students who are considering careers in law should know.

“If you enjoy dealing with people and their problems you will enjoy a career in law,” said Justice Bert Levy.

He told students that as lawyers and judges they will be dealing with people at the lowest and most difficult part of their lives. He said that law is a helping profession, and it isn’t for everyone.

“Go sit in the back of a court room and watch a trial… see if that appeals to you,” Levy said.

Ardaiz had some general career advice for all students. He told them to pick a career where they are satisfied with what they do. If helping children is what they want to do, then they should teach, regardless of the pay or job prospects. If they want to go into law then they should pick the job that they will enjoy and not the one that pays the best.

“You don’t choose a career because of the money. The only thing that will make it work for you is the satisfaction level,” Ardaiz said.

Stephen Routh, department chair of Politics and Public Administration at CSU Stanislaus, encouraged his students to attend the panel discussion.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity for them to gain a greater appreciation of the role of the courts,” Routh said.

In addition to the educational value of the lecture, Routh said it was enjoyable to listen to the judges’ answers.

“I think these justices were an impressive lot. I’m not just saying that.  They had great answers and they were very articulate,” Routh said.

Students had the chance to meet with the justices at a reception after the panel discussion.  They took full advantage of their opportunity, knowing that it might not come again during their studies at CSU Stanislaus.

To contact Andrea Goodwin e-mail  or call 634-9141 ex. 2003.

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