The New York State Supreme Court came to Cornell Law School on October 22 to hear oral arguments on a range of issues from child neglect to jury selection, mining leases, subcontracts, liability, and the rights of a defendant who pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. For the bench of the Appellate Division, Third Department-Presiding Justice Hon. Karen K. Peters and Associate Justices Hon. Christine M. Clark, Hon. Elizabeth A. Garry, and Hon. Robert S. Rose-it was a good day's work, and for Cornell Law students, it was a rare opportunity to observe an appellate court in action.
“To see litigators and justices in the moot court room was a great way to put the real world and the academic world into one place,” said Stephanie Command ’16. “We don’t usually see the law on such a practical level, where we can feel the real-life applications.”
“It was eye-opening to get the state perspective, because in most of our coursework, we focus on federal law,” said Mateo de la Torre ’16. “We’ll watch video clips from federal proceedings, but this was a side of the law that we don’t see very often.”
The biggest surprise for Command and de la Torre, students in Professor John H. Blume’s 3L course on federal appellate practice, was the mood. There were jokes from the bench, and the tone of the arguments was far more relaxed, more conversational than the arguments they’d seen in either federal or moot court. This was real life, with some attorneys more skilled and better prepared than others, illustrating the lessons Blume has been teaching Cornell Law students for the past eighteen years.
“There were things I would and wouldn’t tell our students to emulate, and at our next class, we’ll talk about what they saw and how they felt about what they saw,” says Blume, the Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques; Director of Clinical, Advocacy, and Skills Programs; and Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. “It was an interesting mix of civil and criminal cases where students could see how the law affects real people in real ways, and as the course keeps going forward, the things they experienced today are going to make their work more tangible. From our perspective, this was very much a success, and I hope the judges feel the same way.”
They did, staying after the oral arguments to relax with faculty and students before returning to Albany, where the court is based. “We want students to learn that the practice of law is creative, that preparation is absolutely critical, and that when they walk into the courtroom, they should try to know more than the judge does,” said Justice Peters, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 1992 and appointed presiding justice in 2012. “That they can change the face of history. And if they’ve learned all that, they’ve learned a lot.”