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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2016

Bar Foundation Rachel Anderson, BBF Charles R. Crowder Fellow BBF Hosts Program That Offers Students a Glimpse of Real-Life Court Cases In October, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals will hear oral arguments in Birmingham at an event presented by the Birmingham Bar Foundation and Cumberland School of Law. This year marks more than 10 years of the presentation where students from throughout the state watch Alabama’s judicial system in action. “Most people have an idea about how the governor and the legislature operate, but many do not have that same level of familiarity with the judiciary. I think bringing the appellate judges to Birmingham to conduct their business, with an audience of local students and community members bearing witness, is a fantastic way to bring the judicial branch to life,” Abbott Marie Jones, Foundation Education Committee Chair, said. Henry C. Strickland, III, Dean of the Cumberland School of Law, echoes that sentiment. “When a good case is presented well by advocates on both sides, students get to see the real nature of judicial and governmental decisions:  they are difficult, with good arguments to decide the issues in different ways.  That fact is why we as a society must find a way to converse and debate even the most controversial topics in a respectful and rational manner.  The court’s oral arguments display that approach,” he said. The event is an important tool for outreach and impact on the community and has become the cornerstone of the Foundation’s educational programming. Because the Foundation was established in 1994 to purchase the building that presently houses the Birmingham Bar Center, civic and legal enrichment was not a part of its work. After the building purchase, the Foundation focused solely on grantmaking; however, according to former Foundation Executive Director Crystal McMeekin, in 2005, Paul De- Marco, who served as Foundation President at that time, proposed the idea for the event. “He had a vision for it (the Foundation) being more than a building owner. He reached out to Cumberland’s Dean, Justice Michael Bolin and other Alabama appellate judges who lived in Jefferson County, the  three appellate court clerks, one of whom was Bob Esdale who lived in Jefferson County, and the Court Marshall. We had a large meeting hosted at the Bar Center and everyone liked the idea and thought it would work,” she said. Indeed, it did work, and continues to do so today. The popularity and success of the oral arguments event gave the Foundation a new aspect of its purpose. Now, the event is integral to the Foundation’s educational programming, and has become the basis for the expansion of its work and inclusion of education in its mission. “We have used the oral arguments event as a blueprint for all of our new educational programming,” Nikki Tucker Thomas, Foundation Executive Director, said. “In fact, because of the positive relationships we have with schools due to the event, it has made it quite easy for us to launch into other programming such as the Preserving Justice documentary that was presented to students to teach about the role attorneys played during the Civil Rights Movement, the Serving Justice presentation that taught students about the Ollie’s Barbecue Case, and the Resolve 2-Solve conflict resolution program at Tarrant High School.” Another positive aspect of the program is the volunteer opportunities for lawyers. To further the enrichment experience for students, prior to oral arguments, volunteer attorneys and judges make class visits to participating schools to give an overview of the Alabama Court System and an explanation and analysis of the cases that will be heard. The Foundation also prepares printed educational materials for the teachers for future use. “Teachers have commented that at about the same time as the event, they are covering the three branches of government and our system of checks and balances. So it ties in well with the existing curriculum and makes the learning experience that much more engaging. By taking what the students are learning from their textbooks and bringing it to life before their eyes, we are showing them why education matters, how our government works, and how to be part of the discussion of important issues in our society,” Jones stated. Each year more than 1,100 area high school, college and law students attend the oral arguments event and schools are quite receptive to the program. “Oral arguments are well organized, 16 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2016
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