COURT ON THE ROAD

May 23, 2002 11:00 pm
COURTROOM THEATRE: State Appellate Court judges, from left, Rex Armstrong, Walter Edmunds and Rives Kistler hear oral arguments Tuesday at McKenzie Theatre at EOU. (The Observer/T.L. Petersen).
COURTROOM THEATRE: State Appellate Court judges, from left, Rex Armstrong, Walter Edmunds and Rives Kistler hear oral arguments Tuesday at McKenzie Theatre at EOU. (The Observer/T.L. Petersen).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

For much of the year, the judges of the Oregon Court of Appeals work behind the scenes, listening to and considering not facts of cases, but how the lower courts dealt with points of law.

If there's a disagreement, the appellate judges hear about it.

Sometimes, as they did this week, they hear about those fine points of law in very public places.

Earlier this week the main stage at Eastern Oregon University's McKenzie Theatre was turned into one of the state's highest court rooms.

Appellate judges Rex Armstrong, Walter Edmunds and Rives Kistler formed the required three-judge panel to hear verbal arguments in cases before the court, including a Union County case regarding an insurance settlement and a Wallowa County case involving a juvenile questioned by police.

Watching the appellate court in action Tuesday were as many as 120 people, both students and members of the public, said Union County Court Administrator John DeNault. The court also convened at the Wallowa County Courthouse in Enterprise on Wednesday.

The visit by the judges was part of an outreach effort by the state courts to help people understand how the courts work. The visit by the judges also included a stop at La Grande High School to talk to students, and visits to both the Lions and Rotary clubs.

The judges talked to about 60 high school students Monday afternoon, DeNault said, and a few students attended the Tuesday session of the court.

When the judges talked with students at Eastern, DeNault called the conversation "lively," noting that the judges drew out comments from students by challenging them to think about situations that could affect them, such as a police officer checking on a person's welfare, then finding an illegal substance during the check. What would have the priority: the officer's duty or the person's right to privacy?

"It was a good discussion," DeNault said.

With the court in session Tuesday, the judges heard from attorneys arguing that certain rulings in circuit court cases, including cases from Union and Wallowa counties, should be reversed.

In the Union County case, an insurance company argued that the court was wrong in failing to give a verdict in its favor, based on the language in the contract, and that the amount of the award was incorrectly determined. The insurance company also claims that the court admitted hearsay evidence.

In the Wallowa County case, the attorney for a juvenile claimed that a motion was incorrectly denied that would have suppressed inculpatory statements the juvenile made to police officers when the juvenile hadn't been read his Miranda rights.

No decisions will be made immediately in the cases, DeNault said. After the judges consider the arguments, they can write opinions, consult with the entire 10-member appellate court bench, or decide — sometimes within two weeks — that the court will issue a finding with no opinion, simply a ruling.

A panel of appeals court judges visited Eastern about a year and a half ago on an earlier tour of regions of the state.