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Courts Visit NEMO, SEIA

Residents of northeast Missouri and southeast Iowa had front row seats to see the judicial branch in action, in recent weeks, as part of an effort to open up the legal system to the public.

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District held a special session on the Culver-Stockton College campus in Canton, Mo. in late October while the Iowa Supreme Court convened in the Edward Stone Middle School auditorium in Burlington in early November.

Chief Judge Robert Clayton of the Missouri Court of Appeals says the court tries to meet outside of St. Louis 10-15 times each year.

"We try to get out and let people see who we are," says Clayton.  "It makes it easier for the lawyers if we go to the communities and it makes it easier for the parties.  It also gives people an opportunity to see how their government functions."

Clayton also feels these "road-trips" build trust.

"I think for the public to have confidence in their third branch of government, the judiciary, which is designed to resolve disputes between people," says Clayton, "you have to have a system that is open, that is transparent, that you can see how the different pieces work."

Dylan Gauldin participating in a mock trial at C-SC.

Dylan Gauldin, 21, of St. Charles, Mo. had a front row seat for the session in Canton.  He is a senior legal studies/criminal justice major at C-SC.

He says he knew early on that his future was in the legal system.

"My dad was never really in the picture and my mom was a court administrator," says Gauldin, "so I grew up in the trial system.  One of my big mentors, and kind of one of my father figures, was actually her judge.  He kind of made sure I was going in the right direction if anything was going wrong."

Gauldin says he grew more interested in the legal system as he got older, thanks to his reading of case law.

He says his reading habits were an accident, based on the availability of the books, but he says he really enjoyed the stories of good guys and bad guys.

"That is something that has stuck with me my entire life, that I never really agreed with the opinions of some of the judges," says Gauldin.  "My mom pulled me aside one time and said that is what being a lawyer is: having these cases and case law and disagreeing with it and arguing why you disagree with it and what proof you have from it."

About 50 people attended the Canton session.

The cases on the docket involved a dispute over some leased farmland, the denial of a county permit and a woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter and elder abuse.

The judges consider case law and past precedent, as opposed to new testimony or evidence, in deciding whether the lower court made the right decision.

The Iowa Supreme Court meeting in Burlington

The same can be said about the practices of the Iowa Supreme Court, which heard two cases during its stop in Burlington.

One was on the residency requirements for hunting licenses while the other involved the accommodations offered to a blind student by a chiropractic college.

Chief Justice Mark Cady says these road shows have been a priority for the court for the past few years.

"I think the public does want to see its courts and what is important for us is that we know that when the public does see the courts, they like what they see."

The crowd for the Iowa Supreme Court session in Burlington

People did want to see the Iowa Supreme Court in action as nearly 300 turned out for the session, including students, politicians and curious observers.

Cady says the public interaction is one of the most important aspects of these traveling sessions, especially spending time with students.

"When the kids are willing to come out and watch these proceedings," says Cady, "they might not get out of it what the adults in attendance did, but I think they saw a process that is thoughtful and dignified.

It is that process that the Iowa Supreme Court and the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District wanted to show during the stops in the tri-state region.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.