Honors Students Engage with Missouri State Supreme Court



CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 21, 2013 – Southeast Missouri State University honors students Allyson Brown, Alisha Carter, Logan Daniels, Michael Wertz and six other students traveled to Jefferson City, Mo., Oct. 7 to visit the state’s Supreme Court as part of their “Contemporary Legal Studies” class.

During their visit to the Supreme Court of Missouri, the 10 students heard oral arguments in four cases and heard two presentations, one given by Judge Patricia Breckenridge, chair of the Supreme Court of Missouri Civic Education Committee, and the other presented by Dr. Anthony Simones, manager of judicial education at the Office of State Courts Administrator. The students acted as a focus group for the presentations and provided feedback to the judges, Johnson said.

“Being able to see the project that the Missouri Supreme Court has been working on with their Civic Education Committee was great,” said Brown of Steele, Mo., who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a double minor in business law and philosophy. “They showed the class educational videos about the Missouri Supreme Court and how judges make decisions in order to receive valuable feedback from the students in our class.”

Dr. Mary Johnson, Southeast professor of business law, organized the trip for her honors students in UI316 “Contemporary Legal Studies.” Johnson served as the Supreme Court of Missouri’s first Faculty Fellow in 2010-2011 and is now serving a four-year term on the Court’s Civic Education Committee, which develops materials for judges to present at various venues including schools, civic groups and community organizations.

“Judge Breckenridge and Anthony Simons worked extremely hard preparing for us, and I felt honored that they took our opinions into such consideration,” said Daniels, a Southeast senior from Cape Girardeau pursuing a Bachelor of Science in engineering technology.

“The trip benefited me by giving a unique perspective of what the court does on the job. In essence, deciding what is fair and objective is quite difficult,” he added. “We have seven judges who do it every day, but how hard it is doesn’t always get recognized.”

“Hearing the oral arguments was very fascinating,” said Carter of St. Louis, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science with double majors in criminal justice and biology. “I also like to argue myself. I enjoyed hearing both sides of the cases. I also enjoyed Mr. Tony [Anthony] Simones; he gave a great presentation on the courts.”

Wertz, a senior from St. Charles, Mo., pursuing a Bachelor of Science in corporate communication with a business law minor, said, “I learned that you have to have amazing reasoning skills to be a judge. It made me understand how hard it is to become a judge.”

Simones said the students’ “role went far beyond simply watching and listening. They were challenged … to provide their responses to the issues raised in the presentations,” critiquing them, articulating their views on their strengths and weaknesses, in writing, as well as in interactions with the presenters.

“My hope is that the students took away an understanding of the challenges faced by judges as they wrestle with the really tough decisions. By placing them in the position of being judges having to decide a controversial case, they were able to experience for themselves the difficulty of having to rule on a case of great significance, in which compelling arguments exist on both sides of the issue,” he continued. “In gaining such firsthand insight into what judges do, the students expand their knowledge about one of our most important governmental institutions. In addition, it is our hope that the students’ respect and regard for the courts will be enhanced with this experience.”

He said the students’ interaction was valuable to the Civic Education Committee because it was able to pilot two of the presentations developed by the committee, and to see whether they had the impact, and accomplished the results, for which it was hoping.

“This trip showed us all the behind the scenes work that has to take place before an argument is heard, and showed all the others who work in cooperation with the state court system to really keep everything running smoothly,” Brown said.

The students also went on a tour of the building and toured the judges’ conference room before meeting them personally and having photos taken with them.

“I learned that the judges in real life all seem to be very happy with one another. Also, in oral arguments there isn’t someone typing word for word, but someone keeps track of the recording of what everyone is saying,” Carter said.

After graduating from Southeast and attending graduate school in Florida, Carter hopes to land a job as a forensic detective.

“I am very interested in law and more specifically the theory behind contemporary legal decisions,” Brown said.

After she completes her degree at Southeast, Brown plans to attend law school and pursue a career as an attorney. Daniels says he hopes to become a mechanical engineer at a large aerospace company.

“To say that I was impressed with these students is an understatement,” Simones said. “I really put them on the spot, asking them for their views on issues, having them assume the role of judges and hand down a decision on a tough case. Instead of being intimidated, they rose to the occasion, confidently accepting the challenges with which we presented them, carefully considering the questions we posed to them, and articulating their responses in a compelling and convincing fashion. It was not only a useful session for us, it was an enjoyable one.

“As a professor for over 20 years, I can say that I love interacting with brilliant people on important issues,” he said. “Well, on this day, I provided the important issues, and they most certainly provided the brilliance.

“They say that students are a reflection of their teacher,” he added, “If that is the case, then Professor Mary Moore Johnson should not only be proud of her students, but also pleased with herself and her effort.”

Johnson responded, “This is exactly what the Teacher/Scholar model is – bringing my professional activities in law into my classroom. The students’ input was insightful and very helpful. I appreciate the support of Dr. Craig Roberts, director of the Jane Stephens Honors Program, and Dr. Chuck McAllister, interim dean of the Harrison College of Business, for supporting this field trip. It is a trip the students and I will long remember.”