LAWRENCEVILLE — The Georgia Court of Appeals is no “Law & Order,” Judge Billy Ray said.
But many of the hundreds of Gwinnett students in attendance at oral arguments in Lawrenceville Tuesday managed to stay awake to listen in on three cases.
A three-judge panel of the court made the rare trip out of Atlanta that day as part of an occasional effort to make the proceedings more accessible to the general public.
As Ray, who lives nearby and was formerly a state senator and local judge, invited principals from across the county to take part in a field trip without expending the gas a trip downtown would normally take, more than 400 middle school and high school students filled the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center auditorium.
“There’s a reason they don’t make TV shows about apellate courts. It’s much more interesting to go to trial court,” Ray told the students during a question and answer session after three cases were heard. “But everyone has a right to an appeal.”
With a few local judges watching the proceedings, Ray admitted afterward that a Court of Appeals hearing had not been that crowded since a Hulk Hogan case was heard.
But he picked a few cases ready for arguments where he hoped to draw some interest, from a Clayton special education teacher hoping to get her job back after failing to pass a math certification case that had not been required when she was hired to a question as to whether a 2007 search was legal in the murder trial of Marco Moses.
The final case of the morning was a Gwinnett contract case, where Butler Capital sued Marvin Hewatt Enterprises over a failed Hamilton Mill-area gas station where Butler, who had loaned money to a company leasing the station from Marvin Hewatt lost out on money when the company walked away.
With his own son, a Grayson High senior in the audience, Ray admitted that some of the kids lost interest in the legal proceedings. But they perked up as the judges answered questions afterward, asking questions about everything from their major in college (Ray studied business while the remaining judges majored in accounting and philosophy) to why they don’t use a gavel.
“It’s a unique opportunity to see oral arguments,” Gwinnett Superior Court Chief Judge Melodie Snell Conner told the crowd, as she watched the proceedings herself for the first time in years. “These are real issues and these are real cases for these jduges to decide.”
Ray said he was proud to bring the panel to his hometown.
“It was a good ol’ three-mile commute. It took less than 10 minutes. Tomorrow it will be 33 miles in an hour and 15 minutes,” he said. “I’d listen to a case here every day if I could.”