Updated Thu, Oct 20, 2011 1:13 pm
As justices from the Ohio Supreme Court listened to arguments yesterday in Hillsboro, the already-cramped room was packed tighter than a pack of cigarettes.
About 240 high-school students shuffled in and out to see the cases.
In fact, the students were the reason the court came from Columbus to the town of about 6,500, located about 50 miles east of Cincinnati.
Since 1987, the court has led a program to take cases to areas across Ohio twice a year. In that time, it has heard 62 cases off-site in 60 of Ohio’s 88 counties for the benefit of local schools, said the court’s public-information officer, Bret Crow.
Judge Rocky A. Coss of Highland County Common Pleas Court said the hearings have brought the county together. Coss invited the court to the county, which justices had not yet visited.
“In a small town like this, this is quite an event,” he said.
The visit prompted renovations to the Highland County Courthouse, the oldest continuously operated one in Ohio. (It was completed in 1834.)
Coss said he was a prosecuting attorney when the court visited Gallipolis in 1990, and again when it was in Athens in 1998. He said the visit allows high-school students direct access to high-court proceedings, something they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“The judicial branch is probably the least-known branch of government,” he said. “People really don’t realize what goes on in courts. It’s a great opportunity for students to see what the court does.”
He also said he thinks the move helps reduce the “beltway effect” and allows the justices a chance to meet locals from across Ohio.
After each of the four cases was heard, groups of students had discussions with the attorneys. The students asked questions and debated the merits of the cases and legal procedures, which they had studied in class.
Jerry Sears, a government and social-studies teacher at Hillsboro Christian Academy, sat in on the smoking-ban case with his students.
“My students were very interested in the case from a property-rights perspective,” he said.
“Everybody said this was the best case to see,” he said. “I’m glad (students) got to see a case and how it could have an effect on their lives.”
Tristan Navera is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.