The Western District Court of Appeals visits MWSU

By Ellis Cross

October 1, 2012

Gary Witt, the newest member of the Western District Judges. Witt also served in the Missouri House of Representatives.

The Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District will sit at Missouri Western on Wednesday, Oct. 10, to hear four cases including personal injury, child pornography and murder.

The three-judge panel will begin to hear oral arguments in four cases beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Kemper recital Hall inside the Leah Spratt building. The judges are Thomas Newton, a trial judge from Jackson County, Joseph Ellis, who practiced law in Macon and Gary Witt, the newest member of the Western District Judges. Witt also served in the Missouri House of Representatives.

Chief Justice of the Western District James Welsh explained in a recent press release that “the cases are appeals from previously held trials in area circuit courts.” An appeal is “where judges listen to attorneys argue whether the trials had any errors that should cause them to be retried, or the trial courts judgment reversed.”

Students will have the opportunity to hear explanations of court proceedings during the judges break time.

The court has devoted resources to educating the public with two videos available on line at Missouri Court of Appeals Western District. (www.courts.mo.gov)

The first video is “Know All About Missouri Courts” and is designed for elementary school-level students. The second video is simply called “Missouri Courts” and is best suited for high schools. Both of these videos feature judges who explain Missouri’s court system and method of selecting judges

The appellate court has its own courthouse in Kansas City that is open to the public. It is the state’s only courthouse exclusively for hearing arguments on appeal. This practice of bringing the courts to towns as small as Macon and Trenton has been a practice for quite some time. This is the 15th time it has sat at Western.

“The court goes into the district to make our judicial system real to the average people,” associate professor of criminal justice, legal and social work Suzanne Kissock said. “It says to the people, we are resolving conflicts.”

The Western District serves the largest number of counties in Missouri and is the largest intermediate appellate court. They hear literally thousands of cases.

“You appeal your case on the state level by right of the individual,” legal studies professor Joanne Katz said. “If you appeal to higher court, the court decides if they will hear the case or not.”

Katz explains you have to preserve error by objecting in court. Appeals are created from the way the judge handles the objection. If the judge rules incorrectly on an error and it may change the course of the trial, it can be raised again in an appeal. Attorneys typically argue these types of cases. The parties can be present but usually are not.

Kissock also points out that sometimes the attorneys representing an appeal do not argue orally.

“The judges make their decision on the written briefs prepared by the attorney” Kissock said. “The judges do not want to challenge precedents. That is why each judge has two law clerks.

“I hope this experience will dispel the myths about the law and make it real for students. I don’t want students to feel disenfranchised by the legal system.”