2013-09-27 / Community

School plays host to Supreme Court next month

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – The last time Jonathan Brogan was at Cape Elizabeth High School, he was a member of the audience for his daughter Anna’s spring band concert in May. Brogan – an attorney with the Portland law firm Norman, Hanson and Detroy – will return to the high school next month, only this time he will be in front of the audience.

Brogan will be one of the attorneys arguing a case in front of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Wednesday, Oct. 9 at Cape Elizabeth High School, one of three stops on the court’s annual tour of Maine schools. The court will also hear cases at Orono High School and Nokomis Regional High School in Newport in October.

“I think anything that introduces young people to our civil justice system and criminal justice system is a great thing for the kids to watch and see,” Brogan said. “It’s a very interesting program, and I will be interested to see what they think.”

Cape Elizabeth government and history teacher Ted Jordan said the hearings will not only introduce students to the details of each of the three scheduled cases, but also to the atmosphere of the Supreme Court chambers, where justices frequently interrupt attorneys with rapid-fire questions.

“The lawyers have to be respectful and answer truthfully, and at the same time they cannot lose track of making their argument. I can talk about that (in class), but if the students see that first hand I think they’re more likely to retain and understand it better,” Jordan said.

Students in Jordan’s Advanced Placement government class will serve as what he called the “hosts” of the event. The students will attend all three court hearings, then eat lunch with the justices after the hearings are finished. The students will also write single-page summaries ahead of the scheduled date of the hearings to prepare the other classes.

The first case students will hear is an appeal of a York County Superior Court decision granting summary judgment in favor of Randall and Rose Dawson of North Berwick, who had a complaint filed against them by Teresa and Robert Bell.

The Bells allege a skateboarding injury sustained by their teenage son in 2009 was a result of the Dawsons’ negligent supervision and dangerous topographical conditions. According to a brief written by Sheldon Tepler of Lewiston firm Hardy, Wolf and Downing, the teenager spent the night before his injury, along with a friend, in the care of the Dawsons, who failed to properly supervise the two because the Dawsons had been drinking heavily.

The following day, the teenager returned home in the morning, then circled back to the Dawsons’ home, where he skated into an oncoming car. Tepler said the teenager’s lack of sleep resulting from the Dawsons’ negligence caused the accident, and a bush Rose Dawson had not trimmed impeded the vision of the oncoming driver.

However, Brogan and attorney Kristina Balbo of Norman, Hanson and Detroy argue in a brief the superior court ruled correctly in granting the Dawsons a summary judgment because, after the teenager had already returned home, the couple’s custodial relationship was terminated.

“Regardless of what relationship existed during the night and what duties existed then, (the child) had returned home in the morning and was no longer in a custodial relationship with the Dawsons,” the superior court decision read.

Sophomore students in AP European History will sit in on the first hearing. History teacher Sarah Harrington said the school is fortunate to have its younger students sit in on a case that will connect the lofty Enlightenment ideas they learn about in class to a relatable situation.

In the second case, which will feature an audience of Cape Elizabeth seniors, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal from the business and consumer court, which ruled that Kennebec County failed to properly inform three employees of their eligibility for membership in the Maine State Public Employees Retirement System.

Because of the somewhat complex nature of the case, and the media coverage associated with it, Jordan said it was appropriate for Cape Elizabeth’s older students. Kim Monaghan-Derrig, who represents Cape Elizabeth in District 121 of the state legislature, said she is pleased that students will have a firsthand account of an issue of statewide importance. Monaghan-Derrig presented the official invitation to the high school to host the hearings.

“National politics is important, but I always feel it’s equally important for students to know the issues facing the state. They’re hopefully going to be growing up here, living, working and going to college here. It’s really important to know the different issues at all the branches of government,” Monaghan-Derrig said.

Finally, Cape Elizabeth juniors will hear an appeal in a criminal case from Steven Lamarre, who petitioned a decision by the Cumberland County Superior Court. Lamarre’s attorney, John Zink, argued in a brief that his client’s nine-year sentence resulting from convictions for two counts of trafficking scheduled drugs and two counts of violating a condition of release in 2009 came as a result of ineffective counsel.

Zink says Lamarre’s original courtappointed attorney, Randall J. Bates, failed to discover pending criminal charges against the state’s primary witness, a confidential informant. Zink further argues the pending criminal matters would have called into question the witness’ motivation for testifying against Lamarre and would have affected the state’s case.

However, Assistant District Attorney Julia Sheridan asserted in a brief on behalf of the state the charges against the criminal informant, Gina Clark, for theft and domestic violence, occurred long after Clark approached the police as a criminal informant. Additionally, Sheridan said the prosecution did not know about the pending charges against Clark, and therefore they could not have been a basis for leniency.

The first hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:55 a.m. at Cape Elizabeth High School on Oct. 9 and end at 11:55 a.m.

Sarah Harrington said her students are looking forward to the opportunity to merge real life and school rather than treating the two as completely separate realities.

“When you see it happening in front of you, it becomes so much more meaningful because it’s real,” Harrington said.

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