The Colorado Supreme Court heard two cases before hundreds of students on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, at Ralston Valley High School in Arvada. It’s all part of Courts in the Community, which gives high school students a firsthand look at how our judicial system works and a better understanding of why it is important. To find out how to have the Colorado Supreme Court or Court of Appeals visit your school, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brochure available here.
What is Courts in the Community?
Courts in the Community is the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals' educational outreach program, which started on Law Day in 1986. It gives high school students hands-on experience in how the Colorado judicial system operates and illustrates how disputes are resolved in a democratic society. The Courts travel to high schools in Colorado to hear two oral arguments at each location. These are not mock proceedings; they are oral arguments in actual cases from which rulings are determined. Each Court issues its opinions anywhere from a few weeks to months after hearing the arguments.
The justices and judges enjoy traveling to different high schools, meeting a diverse mix of students, and educating the public about their work. Cases are chosen by specifically targeting the interests of students.
What happens during a court visit?
Oral arguments are generally held in the morning. The formal event begins with opening remarks welcoming the audience and explaining the format of the proceedings. The court hears two oral arguments during the visit. A question-and-answer session between the students and participating lawyers follows each argument. The judges or justices join the open dialogue with the students at the conclusion of the second session. A luncheon traditionally hosted by the local bar associations, school, and court wraps up the activities. During this lunch, students selected by their teachers have the opportunity to eat and converse with the justices or judges. Participating lawyers and members of the community can also be invited, depending upon resources. The entire visit generally lasts four to five hours.
How is a Supreme Court visit different from a Court of Appeals visit?
The Supreme Court visit usually begins with a coffee reception at the school, giving the justices an opportunity to meet members of the community, including teachers, school administrators, board members, judges in the district, and lawyers from the local bar association. All seven justices travel to hear their oral arguments.
Court of Appeals judges sit in panels of three to hear cases. Their visits also typically begin with a coffee reception. This Court's luncheon tends to be smaller than the Supreme Court's. Sometimes, local judges join the group to interact with the students.
How can this program benefit your school?
The Courts in the Community program provides a learning opportunity for all involved, as we bring the judicial process to you. This is a chance for you and your students to witness actual court cases and view the appellate process in progress. It is also a chance for students to meet and interact with the judges and justices.
About a month before the day of arguments, teachers are provided with background information and teaching materials at a customized workshop, where judges, local lawyers, and court staff help you understand the cases to be argued. Volunteer lawyers from your area may also schedule times to visit your classrooms and answer questions, facilitate discussions, and lead activities with the students in order to help prepare them. There are worlds of educational possibilities in the activities that revolve around the selected cases.
It is a chance to put your school on the map and provide your students and teachers with a unique learning opportunity as part of the Colorado judicial process.
How do the Courts decide where and when they are going?
Both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals try to visit one urban and one rural school each year. Our visits are usually in the fall and the spring. Arguments can be held on the school campus or, depending upon space, in a nearby college facility or convention center. We look for locations where there is interest by school teachers, students, and administrators. If there is room, the host schools are encouraged to invite other nearby schools to participate in the event. Our goal is to expose as many students and communities to our program as possible. We are not opposed to returning to schools we have already visited, especially if significant time has passed.
How can you get involved?
Check with your principal and other teachers (especially government, history, social studies, and law) to make sure there is interest. Then contact Jon Sarche, our Public Information Coordinator at the Office of the State Court Administrator: 720-625-5811 or toll-free at 800-888-0001.
What is required of your school?
You have five main responsibilities when hosting the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals:
- We ask that a representative from your school act as the school liasion and attend necessary meetings (held at your convenience) to plan the various components of the project. We will take care of setting the cases, contacting the lawyers, and conducting the workshop. We do not expect the school to pick up any major expenses for the visit; we appreciate more that you donate your time, energy, and efforts. The Office of the State Court Administrator will provide a planning guide and work closely with you and your school to ensure that everything is ready for the Court's visit.
- We expect the teachers involved (all whose students will be attending the arguments) to attend a three-hour workshop held at your school which will provide educators with important information from judges, lawyers, and court staff about the cases and the visit.
- You will be responsible for preparing your students, with knowledge and etiquette, and get them excited about the visit. We ask teachers to be open to having local volunteer lawyers visit the classrooms in order to help prepare the students.
- We ask for your help in providing us with a list of appropriate people in your school and community that we can potentially invite to the event.
- You are responsible for setting up the space and providing the necessary amenities, as outlined in the planning guide.
What will your students learn from this experience?
- The importance of the rule of law
- The manner in which a democratic society resolves disputes
- The history of the courts
- How the Colorado Judicial Branch functions
- How the appellate process works
- What it takes to become a judge
- The role and responsibilities of judges
- Who are Colorado's appellate justices and judges?
- Courtroom etiquette
- The steps a court case follows through the appellate process
- Speech and debate tactics
- How to argue a case
- How to objectively examine a case
- Implications and impact of court decisions
- How to bridge the gap between the classroom and the "real world"