May 29, 2010
CHS students glimpse appeals court workings
Albany appellate court holds public session Friday in Cortland County Court
Deedi Boland thought her past two years on the high school mock trial team prepared her more than some of her classmates, as they followed cases heard Friday before the state Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department.
A panel of five justices in the appellate court spent about two hours in the main Cortland County courtroom listening as attorneys argued appeals in eight civil cases, one from Cortland, and others from surrounding counties.
“It’s exciting because you’re prepared, but you’re still not prepared,” 18-year-old Boland said of how attorneys argue their cases. “You don’t know what the other side is going to say and you don’t know how it’s going to rule.”
She was among about 80 students from Cortland Junior-Senior High School class You and the Law, who sat in the courtroom gallery to observe the appellate court cases.
Lori Megivern, who teaches the high school law class, brought her students to see the process when the appellate court came to Cortland 10 years ago and said she was grateful for the chance to do it again this year.
Local attorneys and court officials were among those who filled the courtroom gallery.
The appellate court, which normally has sessions in Albany, circulates around the 28 county courts in its jurisdiction as a way to give the local public a chance to see the appeals for themselves, Presiding Justice Anthony Cardona told the audience, adding he was glad to see the students in the gallery.
“To give them an opportunity for what we feel is a very important part of our judicial process,” Cardona said. “This is a perfect example today.”
Boland said she wanted to give a high-five to Cortland resident George Dinstber, who argued his appeal on his own behalf.
Dinstber’s vehicle was rear-ended in January 2002 and he notified his no-fault insurance carrier Allstate Insurance, but his claim for coverage was denied in July of that year.
Attorneys for the insurance company argued Dinstber failed to provide required information, verify his claim and cooperate with the insurance investigation of the accident.
Dinstber was appealing a state Supreme Court ruling that gave his insurance company extended time to file paperwork associated with the original case.
Dinstber appeared in court wearing jean overalls and was visibly angered by the turn of events in the case, as he vehemently stressed his argument.
“They denied benefits ... this is egregious what the state did with this case,” Dinstber said.
During his speech, he apologized to the justices if he failed to answer their questions directly. Cardona said Dinstber did fine with his presentation.
“I’m sorry I’m redundant, a little nervous,” Dinstber told the court. “I don’t do this every day.”
Boland and her classmate, 17-year-old Alex Stevens, said they liked the idea of Dinstber representing himself.
“I thought he was interesting presenting his own case,” Stevens said.
“He was obviously more passionate than a lawyer would have been,” Boland said.
It takes about seven weeks before rulings on the appeals are filed. Cardona said each justice proposes a decision first and after a few weeks, they gather to discuss the cases and make a final ruling.
Even those involved in the legal system can take something from watching appellate court proceedings, said state Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey of Cortland County.
“And frankly, many attorneys don’t have that opportunity and it’s just wonderful to open up the process,” Rumsey said. “The court system is a mysterious branch of government anyway.”
Stevens said this was his first time in a courtroom and he liked the experience, except for one problem that had been shared by students who attended 10 years ago.
“The seats could have been more comfortable though,” Stevens said.
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