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Supreme Court justices visit with ASU law students

April 09, 2008

The Arizona Supreme Court spent about 90 minutes listening to attorneys argue the facts of two cases and quizzing them about parts of the law during a visit March 25 to the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

After the oral arguments, the justices took the time to candidly answer questions from the audience, which included the proper preparation of cases, grooming for a judicial career and the perks of being on the state’s highest court.

“I like being called ‘Your Honor,’ ” said justice Michael Ryan, class of 1977.

“I look great in black,” added Justice Andrew Hurwitz.

The five judges, three of whom are alumni of the ASU law school, seemed to enjoy this annual exchange with the mostly first-year law students. This time, a delegation of judges and attorneys from Kyrgyzstan, visiting the U.S. for the first time to learn more about justice, also attended.

Being on the Supreme Court is an opportunity to work with people who care deeply about researching facts and fairly deciding interesting cases, said chief justice Ruth McGregor, class of 1974. But it’s more than case law, McGregor added, noting the justices also work on programs that help ensure victims’ rights and improve the efficiency of the juvenile courts, among others.

“It’s a really great job,” she said.

The Arizona Supreme Court is a unique animal, said justice Scott Bales.

“We always sit together and are small enough to operate in collegial fashion, which is unique to our court system,” Bales said. “Every week is like a seminar dealing with a very different legal question.”

Hurwitz, a former trial attorney, said maintaining neutrality behind the bench is “not for sissies.”

“A lot of times we decide cases in a way we wouldn’t if we were perfectly free to represent our own preferences,” he said. “It’s not a downside, but it’s a ‘hard side.’ ”

The students asked the justices to reveal the good and bad things attorneys do in their briefs and oral arguments. Ryan said it’s helpful when lawyers include a concise introduction in their briefs that provides a roadmap of the issues.

“But when attorneys raise issues that are meritless, that have been decided numerous times, it’s baffling to me,” he said. “Sit down and decide what’s really the important issue, and focus your brief on that.”

Justice Rebecca Berch, class of 1979, the former director of the Legal Writing Program at the College of Law, said clear writing stems from clear thinking.

“Explain your case to a friend,” Berch said. “Talk it through. Get your case down cold.”