John Grobmyer, a 2013 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, recently earned the rare distinction of arguing a case before the Kansas Court of Appeals as a law school student.
The opportunity was the pinnacle of his studies at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas, where he completed his law degree earlier this month. Although all law students complete a mock Court of Appeals argument while taking the course, “Legal Analysis, Research and Writing II,” it is very unusual for students to argue a real case while still attending law school.
“Very few attorneys have the privilege of arguing in front of an appellate court, so it is quite uncommon for a law student to do so,” said Grobmyer. “Generally, the Court will not allow a law student to argue a case unless that student has demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the case and the law in question. Therefore, it was a tremendous honor to be allowed the opportunity to argue a case.”
In May 2016, Grobmyer started a year-long internship with the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office located in Lawrence, Kansas.
“One of my first assignments was to draft a response to a motion to suppress. The defendant, who was charged with driving while suspended, was challenging the legality of the stop. In order for a traffic stop to be legal, an officer must have reasonable suspicion,” said Grobmyer. “Reasonable suspicion requires at least one objective fact, coupled with rational inferences, that the person stopped is engaged in illegal activity. The officer in our case ran the license plates of a vehicle and discovered the owner had a suspended driver’s license. Thus, the sole question in the motion to suppress was whether an officer can rationally infer that the owner of a vehicle is also the driver, absent any information to the contrary.”
The defendant won the motion to suppress, and the District Attorney’s Office filed an interlocutory appeal. Interlocutory appeal simply means an appeal taken before the end of a case, he said.
“Because I had written the motion to suppress, I was allowed to draft the Appellate Brief on behalf of the State. The case was docketed and the Kansas Court of Appeals, of its own accord, decided oral arguments were warranted in the case. The district attorney filed a motion to the Court of Appeals to allow me to argue as a law student, and the Court granted that motion. I argued the case in front of a panel of judges on April 13,” Grobmyer said.
While the Kansas Supreme Court is the highest court in Kansas, the Kansas Supreme Court normally only takes five percent of the cases argued at the Kansas Court of Appeals. The Kansas Court of Appeals is the court of last resort in more than 90 percent of cases in Kansas, he said.
Grobmyer’s studies and previous law experience prepared him for his assignment. He previously interned with the Missouri Public Defenders in Cape Girardeau County and Bryan Smith Law in Topeka, Kansas, before interning with the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office. He also served as an intern with the Washburn Law Clinic in the criminal litigation section during his last year of law school.
“During my last year of law school, I acted as a prosecutor in one county and defense counsel in another,” he said. “In fact, I have done a jury trial as both a prosecutor and as defense counsel. It is uncommon to do either and very rare to have done both while in law school.”
Grobmyer is originally from the southeast Missouri region, having graduated from New Madrid County Central High School in 1998. He served in the U.S. Marines from 2003 to 2007 where he was trained as an air traffic controller, but ultimately served as a legal assistant primarily doing tax preparation for fellow service members at Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California. He was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal in 2015 for his work. After his military service, he returned to his stomping grounds, enrolled at Southeast and went on to earn a Bachelor of General Studies with minors in political science and philosophy.
“I attended Southeast because it was close to home and my grandmother, who was the only other person in my family to have gone to college at the time, was an alum from Southeast,” he said.
Dr. Hamner Hill, chair of the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religion at Southeast, said, “It was clear when John began taking classes at Southeast that he was both extremely talented and extremely focused on his studies. Like many of our non-traditional students, John knew what he wanted from his undergraduate degree, and that was to prepare him for Law School. He has a keen, analytic mind, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that he has been so successful so soon after graduation. He was a joy to teach and we in philosophy are all very proud of him.”
Grobmyer added, “I have had a busy last few years, especially this last year. Two internships plus a full school schedule meant I was working 100-plus hours a week. The ‘Will to Do’ is not about doing just what is necessary to accomplish something. It is about going above and beyond to get the most of an experience.
“If I had just gone to class for three years, I would have still gotten a law degree. However, I had the ‘Will to Do’ more,” he said. “I wrote actual motions and appellate briefs; tried actual cases as a prosecutor; represented actual clients as defense counsel; advocated for Native Americans in tribal court; and argued in front of a state level court of appeals. It should never just be about the destination; it should be about getting the most out of the journey.”
And now his journey continues. His next goal is to pass the bar exam and then practice criminal law in either Kansas City or the southeast Missouri area. Down the road, he says, he aspires to become a judge.