'Court Community Connections': Supreme Court heard arguments at high school

By Frank Weir
Legal News

The Michigan Supreme Court went “on the road” on Wednesday, April 29, to Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School as part of its “Court Community Connections” program.  It was the 16th time the court has held a session “offsite.”

Local attorneys visited area high schools to discuss the case, before the court heard oral arguments in Pioneer’s auditorium in the Barry County case of Estate of William T. Beals vs. State Of Michigan and William J.
Harmon. The case involved the drowning death of Beals, a 19-year-old student at the Michigan Center and Technical Institute (MCTI) in Plainwell.

Matthew Klakulak was counsel for the plaintiff-appellee while Mark Donnelly was counsel for the defendant-appellant. Joseph Froehlich was co-counsel with Donnelly.

Before the start of a lunch with students and area judges and lawyers, followed by case arguments, Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. and Justice Bridget Mary McCormack spoke about the event.

“Three times a year, we take the court on the road and its always the same general format,” Young said. “Local judges, lawyers, teachers all work in the schools to educate the kids about the case so they understand what the issues are. Then we have a lunch where students sit with the justices along with lawyers and leaders active in our community program followed by the actual argument.”

Young added that the court’s general counsel, Joseph Baumann, along with both case attorneys, field questions from students while the court meets to deliberate.

“Our goal is educational,” Young continued, “and we want to bring the court not only to the community but to the students who probably have only experienced a court proceeding by watching TV. And they almost never see appellate or Supreme Court proceedings.”

McCormack, an Ann Arbor resident whose children attend Pioneer, noted that justices look for a case that high schoolers will find compelling.

“We try to pick something that we hope is accessible for students. A tax or drain case just wouldn’t do,” she smiled. She acknowledged that court proceedings are open to the public “but people rarely come up to the sixth floor to observe our proceedings. We don’t draw people.”

Young said that court proceedings are now streamed live on the Internet at http://courts.mi.gov/Courts/MichiganSupremeCourt/oral-arguments/live-streaming/Pages/live-streaming.aspx.

At the lunch, Young presented resolutions commemorating the event, and expressed thanks, to Judge Carol Kuhnke and Pioneer teacher Tracey VanDusen.

Other individuals and organizations receiving special thanks from the court were, Washtenaw County Trial Court, Washtenaw County Bar Association, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Washtenaw Region, Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association, Pioneer teacher Karla Hitchcock, Pioneer technical director Mysti Plummer, and Michigan Creative Manager Chris McElroy.

Participating high schools included Community, Huron, Pioneer, Skyline, Dexter, Milan, Saline, True North, Washtenaw International, and Whitmore Lake.

Local attorneys who served as mentors at the schools included: Sam Bernstein, Matthew Boehringer, Tom Bourque, Kathleen Brown, Lori Buiteweg, Elizabeth Graziano, Charlie Groh, Jinan Hamood, David Hutchinson, Elizabeth Janovic, Christopher Jennings, Tracy Jensen, Angie Martell, Benjamin Muth, Oscar Rodriguez, Luke Schmerberg, Kate Sharkey, Bill Tanner, Tammie Tischler, John Turck, and Jill Wheaton.