Longmont's Silver Creek High School hosts Colorado appeals court

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Government students at Longmont's Silver Creek High School got a firsthand lesson on the judicial system on Monday, listening to oral arguments in two appeals court cases in their auditorium.

After the arguments, the lawyers and judges answered students' questions. A small group of students also ate lunch with the judges.

One student asked the judges about the dress code, noting they all wore the same color gray suits. The judges joked that they "shared an email" to coordinate. Another asked the lawyers if they get nervous before arguing a case, with one admitting that he used to throw up before trials.

"I thought I wasn't cut out to be a lawyer," said Silver Creek senior Natalie Trujillo. "But these lawyers are just regular people. It was a very good experience to see how the court works."

The Silver Creek visit is part of Courts in the Community, an educational outreach program started in 1986 by the Colorado Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

In the first case heard at Silver Creek, the defendant asked the court to review his conviction for menacing, arguing that the comments made by the prosecutor during closing arguments about his credibility were improper. He also argued that the judge erred in preventing him from presenting evidence.

In the second, prosecutors asked for a review of a judge's decision to dismiss a case after the prosecution's main witness failed to appear to testify during an aggravated robbery trial.

The judges — John Daniel Dailey, Robert D. Hawthorne and Craig R. Welling — are expected to issue written rulings in a few weeks.

After the arguments, the judges and lawyers talked with the students about the differences between trial and appellate courts and between working as a lawyer and as a judge.

Welling, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals in December, said going from a lawyer to a judge is "liberating."

"You're not on the hot seat like lawyers," he said.

Welling added that the appeals court judges don't try to second-guess if the trial court judges made the same decisions they would have made, but instead focus on, "Did they follow the law?"

"We are not free-roving administrators of justice," he said.

For the lawyers, students asked if they felt intimidated or got nervous when the judges questioned them during their arguments.

"These judges aren't terribly scary," said prosecutor Tanya A. Karimi. "They're just trying to figure things out."

Several students said they wished the appeals cases had more drama, but liked hearing from the lawyers and judges.

Junior Mila Denis-Judson said she preferred trials after previously shadowing a lawyer in juvenile court, but still appreciated the opportunity to see an appeals case at her high school.

"I'm interested in the justice system, and wanted to see how it would play out," she said.

Classmate Derek Russo said he's always loved law and was excited to see a court in action.

"I didn't even know what an appellate court was until last year," he said. "You can see the strategies the lawyers use and when the judges hone in on something. It was a wonderful experience."

Silver Creek High School freshman Yanet Valle draws portraits of the judges during a question-and-answer period Monday after the Court of Appeals sessions at Silver Creek High School in Longmont. (Lewis Geyer / Times-Call Staff Photographer)