Washington County students attend Ohio Supreme Court session in Marietta
MARIETTA — Precedent, criminal court proceedings and disbarment were all topics covered during a local visit from the Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday.
About 600 students from Marietta, Belpre, Fort Frye, Frontier, Warren and Waterford high schools, Veritas Classical Academy and both the Washington County Career Center and Juvenile Center witnessed the debate of law firsthand as the justices set up shop on the stage of the Marietta High School Auditorium.
“It’s the most important thing we do because people need to know how the courts operate and kids need to know that,” said Justice Patrick Fisher.
Justice Judith French and Justice R. Patrick DeWine added that they were impressed by how prepared and inquisitive the students in attendance were.
“I’m always amazed with the students. They pay attention and asked good questions,” said DeWine.
The oral arguments heard were actual cases the justices of the court are currently considering, giving the teens a firsthand look at how lawyers answer questions pertinent to more than just the case at hand.
“We prepared them by having them complete a poster project on the federal branches of government last week,” explained Zach Husk, an American government and economics teacher at the career center. “This week they’re completing a poster project on state government and I made an informational pamphlet (to provide definitions and give basic tenants of cases heard.)”
The three cases heard Wednesday covered oil and gas rights, client intimidation and attorney disqualification and a former judge facing disbarment in the third.
The final case heard had students leaning forward in their seats, some scratching their heads. It resulted in many questions in the debriefing with the attorneys and students following the arguments.
Lance Mason, a former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge, was represented by Rick Alkire Wednesday, arguing for an indefinite suspension from practicing law instead of disbarment.
The case stemmed from an August 2014 assault where Mason struck his wife, banged her head against the car window, armrest and dashboard, bit her on her face, beat her several times outside of the car and bit her again before leaving her on the road. His wife required reconstructive surgery on her face following the assault and Mason pleaded guilty to attempted felonious assault and domestic violence in September of that year.
He also served nine months of a 24-month prison term before early release and was assessed by a panel of the state bar association’s professional conduct board which concluded that Mason’s actions reflected poorly on his trustworthiness and fitness to practice law.
That board recommended that Mason be disbarred, meaning he could never practice any form of law in the state of Ohio henceforth.
Mason’s appeal before the Ohio Supreme Court asked for a lesser punishment called an “indefinite suspension” which would allow Mason to possibly practice law again in the future if he fulfills state requirements of redemption.
“There aren’t field trips to the court and I don’t see an interest from the public coming in to sit in the courtroom in Columbus,” said Alkire, who represented Mason in the final case. “I’ve argued probably 20 times before the Supreme Court…this is a great educational opportunity for the students to get to watch this.”
Representing the Ohio State Bar Association, Maura Scanlon and Kelly Heile also fielded questions about court processes and standards of conduct for lawyers and judges Wednesday, explaining why the Bar took the stance it did on Mason’s conduct during the students’ debrief.
“I think the arguments showed that the justices had read the briefs of both parties and I was encouraged by the questions that the justices asked both sides,” said Scanlon.
Devola resident Shawn Strahler, a career center student, asked the attorneys how character witnesses were necessary evidence in the case while other students like career center Junior Alyssa Bruso, 16, of Waterford, said she watched the body language just as much as she listened to the arguments and questions from the justices Wednesday.
“Some of those justices were ruthless and cut off the lawyers when their time was up,” she said. “I used to want to be a probation officer because I’ve seen my whole life my peers that have gone to (the juvenile center) and some to prison and I wanted to help. But I think the system is too brutal for my big heart, so now I’m studying to go into the medical field.”
Fort Frye junior Colby Sleek, 16, said the arguments Wednesday just solidified his resolve to become a lawyer.
“I like the order and definition of law,” said Sleek. “This was really interesting to me and a great opportunity to listen to different types of cases that lawyers can represent and listen to arguments in new ways.”
To view recordings of the arguments from Wednesday visit http://bit.ly/SCOhioMta.