April 09, 2020
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Justices provide students ‘more realistic’ look at law

BANGOR – Valerie Williams viewed the law from a different perspective on Friday when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in Penobscot County Superior Court.

Williams, 56, of Bangor was one of nearly 100 students who attended the session. She was part of a Penobscot Valley Senior College class, “Not Your Grandfather’s Judicial System,” taught by retired Justice Paul Rudman.

“I took the class because I was on a jury a few years ago,” Williams said during a break between arguments, “and I found every bit of it fascinating. It’s interesting to see it from a different point of view.”

Members of the senior college, which is affiliated with the University of Maine Center on Aging, were joined by an 11th-grade class from Nokomis High School in Newport, students from Husson College in Bangor and the University of Maine Augusta.

It was the third day that justices of the state’s high court convened outside its home in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. The court met at South Portland High School on Wednesday and at Lewiston Middle School on Thursday.

Coincidentally, the Bangor law firm Gilbert & Greif was involved in the three appeals of civil cases heard Friday. Two of the cases were employment discrimination lawsuits the firm had won for workers that were appealed by the other sides. The third involved the ownership of an Essex Street farm where a barn last week was destroyed by fire.

“It’s more slow-paced than I thought it would be,” Blaine Coakley, 16, of Newport and a student at Nokomis, said. “It’s not as dramatic as TV but I guess it’s more realistic this way. Mr. [Charles] Gilbert came to class to talk about the cases, so we only heard one side. It’s interesting to hear what the other side had to say.”

Charles Gilbert’s son, Seth Gilbert, 16, of Dixmont attended the arguments with his class. It was the first time he’d seen his father at work in a courtroom.

“I was surprised at how much [the justices] interrupted and how they asked so many questions,” the younger Gilbert said during a break.

Rudman, 71, of Veazie retired from the state’s supreme court last summer. He returned to the Bangor law firm where he worked before being appointed to the bench but decided to share his years of experience by teaching.

The former justice felt he would need at least 10 students “to get a good discussion going,” but initially limited the class to 25.

He changed his mind as more people sought to join the group and ended up with 42 students, all over the age of 50. Rudman also invited state and federal judges to guest lecture in the six-week class.

“I think there’s great interest in the law,” he said of the high enrollment. “My feeling is that TV does the court system an injustice. I’ve tried to give the class the reality.”

That, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley has said, is one of the reason the justices will continue to take their robes on the road.


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