U.S. District Court and North Dakota Supreme Court hear cases at UND Law in November
Law students had front row seats at two exceptional events at the School of Law this month: the annual visit of the North Dakota Supreme Court, and the inaugural use of the new Teaching Courtroom by the U.S. District Court. Each Court visit created outstanding opportunities for students to see practicing attorneys in action, in front of real courts, and in cases with real-life consequences.
The addition and renovation to the law school building has made it more feasible for us to invite judges to the School of Law, as we now have courtrooms suitable for both trials and appeals, with state-of-the-art technology and enhanced courtroom security.
In early November, the North Dakota Supreme Court traveled to Grand Forks to hold hearings at the School of Law. Last year, for the first time in recent memory, the Court cancelled its annual visit, as the law school building was under construction and there was not a suitable courtroom for the Court’s use. This year, we were delighted to welcome the Court back to the new and improved School of Law.
The Court held hearings in four appeals. The cases involved issues of criminal law, family law, contracts, evidence, and procedural law—all excellent learning opportunities for students to see how legal rules are applied in real cases. In an appellate argument, the case centers on whether the lower court—the trial court—made the right decision. Typically, after filing briefs (written arguments), each side’s attorney is allotted a 20 or 30 minute “oral argument” before the court. An appellate court sits as a panel of judges; all five of the North Dakota Supreme Court Justices hear each argument, and the appeals are decided by majority vote.
At the Court’s request, hearings were held in the Baker Courtroom at the School of Law—while the ceremonial courtroom lost none of its grandeur in the renovations, the judges’ chambers and the security of the courtroom were significantly improved. Along with the Court’s security officer, University Police and State Highway Patrol officers were on hand to ensure a safe environment for the proceedings.
The Court also visited several classes, including Legislation, Professional Responsibility, and State & Local Government. Students in the courses heard the Justices’ perspectives on key legal issues related to judicial independence, legal ethics, and the practice of law.
The highlight of the Court’s visit was the final round of the School of Law’s Moot Court competition. Two teams of third-year law students—James Grossman & Brandt Doerr, and Amanda Tucker & Samantha Olson—argued a mock appeal in front of the Court. The case was a complex one involving the federal Computer Fraud & Abuse Act, and the Court peppered the students with questions and challenges to their arguments. Afterwards, the Justices gave informal feedback to the student finalists, commending their preparation and demeanor before the Court. (Read more and see photos of the competition at http://law.und.edu/features/2015/10/moot-court-f15.cfm)
Last week, the School of Law’s new Teaching Courtroom in the building addition was put to use as a working courtroom when the Hon. Ralph R. Erickson, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota, heard federal cases in the new courtroom. The Teaching Courtroom was designed to serve as both a classroom for simulation courses, like Trial Advocacy, and as a working courtroom for visiting judges. It features a jury box and jury deliberation room, witness stand, and multiple screens for viewing evidence, as well as technology controls from both the judge’s bench and the attorneys’ counsel tables. Chief Judge Erickson toured the new courtroom earlier this fall, and immediately agreed to hold hearings in the School of Law.
The Court held hearings in three cases, two involving federal crimes and another involving an insurance coverage dispute. Students filled the new courtroom to observe a sentencing hearing, a change of plea hearing, and a summary judgment hearing. University Police assisted U.S. Marshals in providing courtroom security.
The U.S. District Court is a trial court, so students saw Chief Judge Erickson preside over each hearing, asking questions of the attorneys and, at times, the criminal defendants. Instead of timed arguments before a panel of judges, as in the appeals before the North Dakota Supreme Court, in this trial setting students saw attorneys handle important courtroom procedures and interact with witnesses, such as questioning a criminal defendant to ensure that he or she is pleading guilty with full knowledge of the consequences.
We are indebted to the North Dakota Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court for their willingness to contribute to our students’ legal education by providing these incomparable educational opportunities. Thanks to the generosity of our state and federal judges and court staff, as well as the attorneys involved in the cases, our students got a first-hand look at the practice of law in the real world.