Appeals in action

Lakeview students got a chance to see Minnesota Court of Appeals judges at work Wednesday, as they heard oral arguments in Marshall

Photo by Deb Gau Lakeview mock trial coach Amanda Sieling, at far right, introduced students to Minnesota Court of Appeals Judges Lucinda Jesson, Diane Bratvold and John Rodenberg on Wednesday. The three judges had just finished hearing oral arguments in a half-dozen cases from southwest Minnesota.

MARSHALL — It wasn’t a typical day for the Lyon County courthouse. While the District Court may have been operating as normal up on the third floor, downstairs there was a crowd of young people waiting for a seat in the county commissioners’ chambers.

That was where a three-person panel of judges from the Minnesota Court of Appeals was hearing oral arguments for a half-dozen cases originating in southwest Minnesota. Students from Southwest Minnesota State University and the Lakeview mock trial team came to observe as attorneys made their arguments and answered questions from judges.

After arguments were over for the day, the mock trial team got to stay for a question-and-answer session with Judges Diane Bratvold, John Rodenberg and Lucinda Jesson.

“This is a very different process” than the mock trial team usually sees, said coach Amanda Sieling. Instead of holding a trial with witness testimony, attorneys presented their legal arguments to the judges, with a time clock limiting how long they could speak.

The appeals court has a different pace than district courts, judges said. In a district court, Rodenberg said, “It’s always hopping, all the time.” Judges need to make a lot more decisions on their own.

The three visiting judges said their work in the appeals court involves a lot more collaboration. Bratvold said she liked working as part of a panel.

“It’s a great opportunity to wrestle with hard issues, in a way that will help people improve the law,” Bratvold said.

“How do you get a job like that?” student Kamden Maag asked of the judges.

First, Jesson said, “You need to be a good lawyer.”

“We have different backgrounds, but we all came through a merit selection process,” to become part of the Court of Appeals, she said. Being a good lawyer and having a good reputation in the community are important factors for appeals judges to have.

Student Christine DeGier asked the judges what their favorite cases had been. The judges responded by talking about some of the most notable cases in their careers — although they might not have been pleasant to go through. Rodenberg said a case that stood out for him was one involving a family that had discontinued chemotherapy for their child.

“We had many, many hearings over many months,” Rodenberg said. At one point, the family left Minnesota, although they did eventually come back, and the teen did receive chemotherapy.

Jesson said one case that stood out for her was from her was a case in which the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper was being sued for defamation, and a reporter wouldn’t reveal their source.

“In that case, we said no, you don’t have to reveal your source,” Jesson said. But it’s a situation she thinks about in context of current events, like the New York Times’ recent publication of an anonymous op-ed column. “It really makes me think about that case.”

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