Indiana Court Appeals conducts court at BHS
It’s not too often that an attorney has the opportunity to make oral arguments before the Indiana Court of Appeals. And its is even rarer for local high school students to have the opportunity to view those arguments in their own high school gym.
But that’s exactly what happened on Friday at Blackford High School.
For the first time ever, Indiana’s second highest court conducted court at BHS as part of an Appeals on Wheels event.
Since the year 2000, the appeals court has been hearing oral arguments at various sites in Indiana so to enable Hoosiers to observe real-world issues that face the Court and to learn more about the Court’s indispensable role in Indiana government.
BHS junior and senior social study students were among those who were able to view the Court’s 13th Appeals on Wheels event this year, and the 513th event since the event started.
Others in attendance on Friday included Blackford Circuit Court judge Dean Young, Blackford Superior Court Judge Nick Barry, Supt. of Blackford Schools Chad Yencer and State Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City).
Principal Scott Shimer issued a warning to students prior to the start of the arguments.
“This is not a re-enactment,” He said. “This a court of law.”
And he warned the students that if anyone acted in appropriate, he or she would be removed by the Indiana State Police officers who were in attendance.
A three member panel consisting of Judge Margret G. Robb, Judge Cale J. Bradford and Judge Robert R. Altice heard oral arguments in the case of Dish Network v. Ronda Marsh.
The workers’ comp case came before the Court after Ronda Marsh was awarded compensation for injuries she sustained because of a January 2015 rollover accident that happened while she was employed with Dish Network Corp. and driving a company van.
Dish Network appealed on the grounds that the Workers’ Compensation Board applied an incorrect legal standard to Marsh’s case.
Those attending the court hearing learned that the appeal came down to one basic issue: Was the seatbelt buckled at the time of the accident?
The Workman’s Compensation Board had determined that evidence presented by attorneys representing Dish was not sufficient to prove that Marsh was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.
Indianapolis attorney Miriam Rich, representing Dish during the appeals hearing, argued that the board made the wrong decision, that the ruling in Marsh’s favor was not supported by substantial evidence, and that Dish was denied due process when it was prevented from presenting live testimony from an accident reconstructionist.
New Harmony, Ind., attorney Nathan B. Maudlin, representing Marsh, in turn argued that the evidence was undisputed. “No reason to believe it is not credible.”
Maudlin also argued that Dish’s appeal of the ruling was frivolous and that his client should be awarded an additional 10 percent of her Workman Compensation award, which is allowed under Indiana law if an appeal is found to be without merit.
Judge Bradford noted during the hearing that since 1930, the rule has been that the Court of Appeals is to not reweigh the evidence. The court’s role is the look at the evidence that is already on the record. If the Court finds that the evidence that was already presented is contrary to the ruling, then the Court will reverse the ruling.
During a question and answer session with students, the judges said it was important for the judiciary to remain independent.
“The three branches of government in Indiana (judiciary, legislative and executive) have a great deal of respect for each other,” Judge Bradford said. “We are all supposed to stay in our own lane.”
“We are very mindful that it is the legislature that makes the law,” Judge Robb added.
Judge Altice, who is up for re-election this fall, told students that he enjoyed the variety of cases that come up before the appeals court. He said prior to serving on the appeals court, he presided over a lot of murder trials. “We get a lot of different types of law,” Altice added, noting that the appeals court allowed him to continue learning.
Judge Bradford said he enjoyed the interaction with his colleagues. He said judiciary was a form of public service.
“Public service is a wonderful thing,” the judge added. “You get a lot more from giving than you do from taking.”
For attorneys Maudlin and Rich, Friday’s arguments before the Court provided a unique opportunity. Both attorneys appeared to be excited and slightly nervous prior to the start of the hearing.
“It’s very rare that you get a chance to argue before the (appeals) court.” Rich said. “It’s a whole other ball game.”
It was only the second time that either attorney had ever appeared before the Court of Appeals. Neither attorney was involved in the fact finding hearing before the Workman’s Compensation Board.
Maudlin’s wife, Jeanne, was among those attending the court hearing.
Obviously excited about the court hearing, she said her husband had also only one other time appeared before the appeals court.
The judges said that an opinion on the Dish appeal would be issued in the next coming weeks.
Judge Altice told the students that the Court of Appeals issues about 2,000 opinions each year. Not all opinions are published, however. Opinions are only published when new law is made or changes are made to an existing law.