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Wed, June 26

Supreme Court Justices give insight into their work

From left, GHMS Principal Kristen Rex and BMHS Principal Trena Linders hold the autographed photos of the Arizona Supreme Court justices presented by Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, as Justice Andrew Hurwitz looks on.<br>
<i>Trib Photo/Sue Tone</i>

From left, GHMS Principal Kristen Rex and BMHS Principal Trena Linders hold the autographed photos of the Arizona Supreme Court justices presented by Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, as Justice Andrew Hurwitz looks on.<br> <i>Trib Photo/Sue Tone</i>

When asked how they compare to other states' Supreme Courts and to the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ruth McGregor called herself and fellow justices a "hot court."

Not that they consider themselves to be extraordinarily good looking, just that they pepper the attorneys with questions during oral argument.

In fact, during each 20-minute segment during which attorneys presented their argument before the court, the justices started in with their questions within the first minutes, if not seconds, of the attorneys' statements.

Twice a year, the Arizona Supreme Court travels outside of the Arizona State Courts Building in Phoenix to a different county to hear oral argument on cases up for review. Bradshaw Mountain High School hosted this past Thursday's argument at Glassford Hill Middle School. It was the court's first time back in Yavapai County since 2004, and the first visit for Prescott Valley.

Several law enforcement vehicles with K-9 officers as far away as Chandler sat in the parking lot as students and visitors arrived, all part of the process to make sure the area was secure prior to the appearance of the justices.

"They started at 6:30 this morning to prepare the school, and brought the bomb-sniffing dogs through," said GHMS Principal Kristen Rex.

Students from Humboldt Unified School District, as well as Mayer, Chino Valley, Prescott, Seligman and Cottonwood, attended the session. Everyone filed through a metal detector screening unit before entering the auditorium.

The justices could not comment afterwards on the two cases it heard - one, a criminal matter involving an appellant who believed his trial judge improperly sentenced him, and the second a civil matter dealing with contractual liability limitations - but answered other questions from the audience.

Prior to hearing oral arguments, the justices had reviewed the case to understand the issues involved. The time for hearing arguments from both sides is also the time to get their questions answered, McGregor said.

"The lawyers just have to put up with us," she said, adding that in other years the court might not engage in as much back and forth questioning.

The five justices hear about 50 cases a year out of perhaps 1,200 that attorneys petition the court to review. The court automatically reviews all death penalty cases.

Justice Andrew Hurwitz said the justices base the criteria by which the court decides to hear a case on those cases that are of statewide interest - affecting more than just the two parties involved - or cases based on legal principles. They might choose another case because it piques the court's interest, he added.

"Lawyers submit to us their petition for review, and part of their persuasive job is to tell us why we should look at it," he said.

Hurwitz said, in answer to another question from a student, that the justices don't usually confer ahead of time to decide who is going to ask what question.

"A lot of times we have the same questions and it's just a matter of who is first," he said. "We try to figure out what troubles us."

After hearing arguments, the justices retire to a conference room, or in the case this past week, to the band room, to talk about the case. The vice justice goes first, the rest follow by seniority, with the chief justice expressing her opinion last.

"Then there could be more of a free-flow discussion on key issues," Justice Michael Ryan said. "After reaching a decision, the Chief assigns the case to be written by one of us or herself."

The mock trial coach from Prescott High School asked what the "dignified" justices did for fun. Most of the justices said they read for pleasure, and many talked about exercise and fitness routines such as running, swimming or hiking.

Justice Ryan said he participates as a judge in mock trial competitions.

BMHS Principal Trena Linders said the high school used to have a mock trial team, but the program ended two years ago when the teacher running it retired. It takes a lot of extra work for a teacher to sponsor and coach a team, she said.

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