School days not over for members of circuit court

by Kelly Hildebrandt

A drug user, a molestation victim and a man injured by police helped law students learn about the appeals process Wednesday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit heard three oral arguments Wednesday morning at the University Law School. The eighth circuit serves seven states including Minnesota and normally hears cases at the Federal Courthouse in St. Paul. The court hears cases at the University once a year.
An appeal to a federal circuit court is a review of a judgement from U.S. district courts.
The first of the three cases was Jeffrey Campbell v. Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, in which Campbell was denied public housing because he had a history of drug use. The U.S. District Court found in favor of Minneapolis Public Housing, saying it was legal to ask for medical records. Campbell’s lawyer is currently appealing that decision.
In the second case, American Employers Insurance Co. v. John 3B Doe, Doe was molested by a priest in the Diocese of New Ulm for a period of eight years. The company insured the diocese for part of that time and brought an action against the Diocese and the church arguing that the company had no duty to defend the church. The district court granted a judgement in favor of American Employers and Doe is now seeking an appeal.
In the third case, Robert L. Thomas v. Matthew Olivanti, Thomas fractured his hip during an arrest and wasn’t treated immediately. The district court found in favor of Olivanti, a police officer involved in the arrest, and Thomas is now appealing the judgement.
During the hearings at the Law School, the lawyers in the three cases stated their arguments for an appeal and were questioned by the judges, although no formal decisions were made.
After oral arguments, the judges go into conference to discuss and cast an initial vote on the case, said Judge Richard Arnold, a judge on the panel.
One of the three judges are then assigned to write an opinion on the case. When finished, the judges read the opinion and cast a final vote. The final rulings were not available Wednesday night.
The hearings give students insight into how a judge analyzes a case and allow them to see lawyers in action, said Sharon Reich, associate dean of the Law School.
“It brings to life what they’re learning in class,” Reich said.
She said the only difference between the court session at the Law School and those regularly held at the federal court house is a change in the setup.
In class, students study court opinions but in session they get to see the opinions in the making, Reich said.
“I think it’s a great learning experience,” said Balak Babcock, a third-year law student. “It’s interesting to see interaction between judges and attorneys.”
“I get to see what actually goes on in the real world instead of just reading about it,” Babcock said.
The three-judge panels usually hear about 25 cases every week they’re in session, which is one week per month, Bowman said.
Myron Bright, one of the three judges on the panel, graduated from the University Law School in 1947. The other judges are Pasco Bowman II and Richard Arnold.
“I feel very strongly that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the University of Minnesota,” Bright said after the hearings. A ceremony was held Wednesday night in honor of Bright’s 30 years as a judge for the eighth circuit.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, which also hears cases once a year at the Law School, will be at the University in the spring.