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Students attend Kentucky Court of Appeals oral argument

Teachable moment: Judges and lawyers explain appeals process

(Bardwell, KY – January 10, 2013) – The new Carlisle County Courthouse hosted a first in the memories of Carlisle Countians: a Court of Appeals oral argument taking place in Bardwell, the county seat.  On hand for the historic event were Carlisle County High School Mock Trial students with their sponsors Miranda Wilson and Brenda Mahan.

A  three judge panel of Judges Irv Maze, Donna Dixon and Shea Nickell heard two attorneys argue Claxon v. Board of Education of Greenup County, a civil case involving the question of  whether a Greenup County school administrator was wrongfully demoted to a classroom teacher’s job by the Greenup County Board of Education.

The judges took lively interest in the details of how often the Plaintiff missed work – and what job he was in when he missed. Was he absent from his job as a school principal or from his job as director of district programs? And was there a substantive difference, the judges wondered.

Attorney for Claxton JoEllen McComb of Lexington filed an appeal from the Board’s decision and a review by the Greenup Circuit Court that upheld the Board’s decision. Attorney McComb told the Court that the Greenup Circuit Court “got it wrong’ when the Judge determined that her client had missed 38 days of work. McComb contended the record was based only upon testimony of her client and his admissions didn’t add up to thirty eight. She argued that the Board didn’t give Claxton sufficient notice of why he was moving from his central office job to a classroom position.

Attorney for Greenup County School Board, James W. Lyon, Jr., argued that it didn’t matter whether Claxton missed work as a principal or as an administrator. He contended that whatever the job – janitor to principal to central office administrator- showing up for work is a necessity.

Judge Donna Dixon told Lyon that “none of us will argue that point” – but she expressed concerns about whether Claxton’s absences came before or after an improvement plan was implemented.

During oral arguments, the question came up whether the Plaintiff was placed in central office not as a promotion but as a step to moving him to the classroom. Lyon admitted that was a possibility. McComb expressed her client’s initial belief that he would be in central office until he retired. Judge Nickell asked if the Plaintiff was “warehoused” by being moved from a school to central office. Lyon declined to agree with that characterization.

As with most oral arguments, the Judges didn’t tip their hands which way they would rule. The parties will have to wait for the Court to issue a written decision to find out.

When the Court adjourned, the Judges shed their robes and spent time talking to the students about the judicial process.  The two attorneys, so recently on opposing sides, shared their perspectives on legal practice.

Attorney Lyon said he likes oral arguments because he loves being a lawyer and arguing cases. Attorney McComb said that while the judicial system is more aware of security than when she began practice, it is still open to the public. That’s not something all countries can say.

Carlisle District Judge Keith Myers told students that he and Court of Appeals Judge Donna Dixon were students at Ballard County High School – but not at the same time. He was careful not to say which of them is older.

“Your hair’s greyer than mine” Dixon joked.

In response to a question on how long it would take the Court to make a decision in the case, the Judges said it depended on whether they all agreed on the outcome. It does happen that one judge’s dissent becomes the majority opinion when the argument persuades at least one other judge to come around to their way of thinking.

Whatever the decision, students were reminded that the outcome has real consequences for the parties to the case.

Below: Carlisle County High School Mock Trial Team and sponsors: Front row: Noah Garnett, Chaney Brown, Colin Crawford, Kyle Clapp, Katie reed, Abby Frazier, Cheyenne Riley and Jonnah Hooper. Back Row: Miranda Wilson, sponsor, Ryan Hobbs, Brenda Mahan, sponsor. Not pictured: Sawyer Rambo


2013 Carlisle County Mock Trial Team at Carlisle County Courthouse

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