Summit High School students get the opportunity to witness Colorado Court of Appeals cases in action

Summit School District/Courtesy photo
Summit High School students got to witness arguments in two Colorado Court of Appeal cases on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.
Summit School District/Courtesy photo

As part of their civics education, students at Summit High School had the opportunity to witness the Colorado Court of Appeals in action last week as judges heard arguments in real cases at the high school.

Held at Summit High School on Thursday, Nov. 9, the event was part of the Colorado Judicial Department’s Courts in the Community program, which was developed to give high school students firsthand experience with how the state’s judicial system works, according to a news release.

“This invaluable experience brought the workings of the judicial branch to life, providing students with a firsthand look at the legal process and its impact on our society,” Summit High School civics teacher Myles Stolier said in an email.

The high school civics class observed two cases on appeal, People of the State of Colorado v. Bradley Todd Clark and John H. Bruce Jr. v. Jonathan Webb, Falcon Fire Protection District and William Yoder, according to the news release.

The Bradley Todd Clark case involves an appeal by Clark, who was convicted of arson and criminal mischief and sentenced to four years in prison for setting a fire inside a Durango grocery store. 

Clark asked the Court of Appeals to review the trial court’s 2021 decision to allow prosecutors to tell the jury that Clark had been arrested in 2007 for allegedly setting fire to the contents of a dumpster, according to Colorado Judicial Branch.

Those 2007 charges were later dismissed. Clark’s appeal argues that the charges should not have been presented to the jury as evidence in the 2021 trial, the release states. Prosecutors argue that the evidence from the 2007 fire helped show why Clark would have set the 2019 fire, showing he had a “specific tendency” toward such acts.

A Summit High School students speaks at a microphone during a question-and-answer session that followed real oral arguments in two Colorado Court of Appeals cases at the school on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.
Summit School District/Courtesy photo

In the Falcon Fire Protection District case, the Falcon Fire District and its chief, Jonathan Webb, reportedly asked the Court of Appeals to review a trial court’s decision that a lawsuit alleging that Webb was negligent in his role in a traffic incident could proceed because his actions resulted in a waiver of governmental immunity.

The case revolves around a collision between a motorcycle and the SUV Webb was driving with emergency lights activated and whether Webb slowed down enough when he approached the intersection.

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“Students were allowed to observe different cases, ranging from criminal to civil matters, gaining insights into the complexities of legal arguments and the importance of due process,” Stolier wrote. “The experience provided a tangible link between the classroom discussions on the Constitution, laws, and the judicial system and the daily workings of a court of law.”

The arguments in each of the cases were followed by a question-and-answer session where students could ask questions of the attorneys. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session with the Court of Appeal judges. Some of the students also had the opportunity to have lunch with the legal professionals.

“Engaging with the judicial branch in this manner fosters a deeper understanding of the principles that underpin our legal system,” Stolier said. “It enables students to appreciate the role of judges, attorneys, and the court staff in ensuring justice and upholding the rule of law.”

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