Albuquerque, New Mexico. – The New Mexico Court of Appeals, in partnership with Sutin, Thayer & Browne law firm, the Albuquerque Bar Association and Sandia Preparatory School, brought the court into the schools this week as a public-service effort to educate students about the justice system.
Sutin, Thayer & Browne lawyer Lynn Mostoller coordinated the event with Appellate Judge Jonathan Sutin and Sandia Prep history teacher Stacy Moses.
As in years past, a panel of three appellate judges heard oral arguments about a real case pending before the court. Participating were Chief Judge Celia Foy Castillo, Judge J. Miles Hanisee and Judge Michael Vigil.
Ms. Mostoller briefed about 100 students ahead of time about the legal issues and facts of the case, which centered on whether an insurance company wrongly denied paying a vehicle damage claim of a young driver because of information that he might have been drag racing at the time of his wreck.
Ms. Mostoller also conducted a spirited question-and-answer session after oral arguments were over and the court was off the record. She and the judges agreed that this was a particularly hard case, and the decision will be issued at a later date.
Students were engaged, attentive and respectful. Afterward, they asked many questions and discussed the case among themselves.
Ms. Moses thanked Ms. Mostoller and Judge Sutin for bringing the process to the school.
“It was very exciting and certainly educational for them,” she said. “They were talking about it when I returned to class. They are very anxious for the decision.”
Judge Sutin offered a history of this public service event:
“The oral argument in the schools program started many years ago in Roswell as a part of the Chaves County Bar Association’s yearly Law Day events. We have held oral argument in the high schools there each year and still do so. The Chaves County Bar Association fully arranges for the argument and hosts members of the Court. We have also held oral arguments in several schools in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and also in schools in Hobbs, Las Cruces, Los Lunas, Grants, Bernalillo, Gallup, Los Alamos and Farmington.”
“These arguments in schools help show the public that communities, schools, lawyers and courts are engaged in an important public service – educating students about law, lawsuits, the judiciary, and the important place of lawyers and courts in resolving disputes.”
“The students understand that the school is a courtroom, no different than if the arguments were in our own courtroom, and that in all likelihood, none of their teachers or parents, nor the vast majority of residents in the state, have ever witnessed this process. They get a good glance at the purpose of the appellate process in our system of justice. They then are able to see the process unfold, with lawyers arguing their client’s positions to the Court. They see the Court questioning the lawyers. After the argument, the students and their teachers are encouraged to ask questions of the lawyers and the Court. The questions are not only about the case at hand but also about the backgrounds of the lawyers and judges. Upon its issuance, an opinion is sent to the students so that they can see the outcome.”
“We think it important that our State Bar, our Supreme Court, and the bar generally, are aware of the time and assistance of the lawyers, particularly because the lawyers do not receive continuing legal education or other credit or recognition for their important service,” Judge Sutin concluded.
Ms. Mostoller said she was pleased to help. “I have been involved with this program for a number of years now, and am continually surprised and impressed at how quickly high school students are able to grasp complex fact patterns and legal issues,” she said. “That the students were eagerly debating various points made by the lawyers as they left the argument is especially inspiring.”
Sutin, Thayer & Browne is one of the state’s largest law firms with offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, providing exceptional service to New Mexico since 1946.