County Students see Supreme Court in action

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 5, 2001

Andy Dean listened as attorneys answered his question.

Thursday, April 05, 2001

Andy Dean listened as attorneys answered his question. "It’s the crux of the case," said Robert Brubaker. "It’s all over one word. What does "employ" mean?"

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And, that’s typical of cases before the Ohio Supreme Court, said Regina Koehler, the court’s communications director.

"Defining a word is a lot of what we do ," she said.

Attorneys agreed, adding that without a definition – an exact explanation of what’s meant by the words of a law – you don’t have a law.

Dean, a Dawson-Bryant High School senior, was one of hundreds who watched Supreme Court justices in action Wednesday, as they held court in Ironton.

Students took turns watching each of four sessions, then quizzed attorneys afterward about what happened.

For Dean, the experience opened his eyes.

"It’s a simple word and they were making such a big deal about it," he said, referring to his question about "employ" in the case of the EPA vs. Ashland Chemical Company.

"Courts are a lot different that on TV," he said, smiling and adding that he knew there would be some differences.

"But it’s nothing what I expected."

The case Dean watched dealt with a permit to operate and environmental regulations, which means possible changes in law depending on the court’s judgment.

Students learned that attorneys give short oral arguments – after filing mounds of briefs and paperwork – to the court. Then the court is charge with settling the argument, sometimes setting "precedent" because their decisions can change current laws.

Questions from students centered on why the attorneys said certain things, why the state agencies couldn’t change rules, and how will what the court says affect other people and laws in Ohio.

Those questions allowed the students to deepen their learning by watching firsthand the processes they read about in class, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge Frank McCown said.

"Law is sort of the lubricant of society," McCown told the students. "It’s why we don’t have mob rule and why we have a civilization."