Supreme court brings learning to life at Cape Elizabeth High School

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court transformed the Cape Elizabeth High School auditorium into a courtroom on Wednesday morning, hearing oral arguments before an audience of students.

“Whether or not students are interested in a career in law, it’s great for them to see this,” Principal Jeffrey Shedd said. “They get to watch professionals think critically, think on their feet.”

It was a particularly special day for longtime Cape Elizabeth history teacher Ted Jordan, whose Advanced Placement government students reviewed court cases in the days leading up to the arguments and ate lunch with the justices afterwards.

“It’s a chance to get up front and personal with the material,” Timothy Hartel, a senior, said. “We get to experience the real, physical version of what we’ve been learning about in class.”

The court heard arguments in three cases.

In the first, Teresa Bell v. Randall Dawson et al., Bell appealed after her accusation of negligence failed in the Superior Court. Bell sued Randall and Rose Dawson, of North Berwick, after her son, Timothy, was struck by a car while skateboarding away from the Dawsons’ home one morning in 2009.

The night before, Rose Dawson had called Bell, lied about her identity, and asked permission for Timothy to spend the night. Then the Dawsons got drunk while Timothy and his friends spent the night hanging out at their house.

“It’s like something out of ‘Jerry Springer,'” Jordan said.

“It was comical,” said Seth Green, a senior on Cape Elizabeth’s state champion mock trial team.  “And it was fascinating. I didn’t think the justices and the lawyers would go at it the way they did, I thought it would be much more sedate.”

The second case, Kennebec County v. Maine Public Employees Retirement System, saw the county appealing a judgment entered in the Business and Consumer Docket that required it to pay $250,000 to three former employees who claim they were not adequately informed of their retirement plan options.

In the third case, Steven Lamarre v. State of Maine, Lamarre appealed a denial of his petition for post-conviction relief on the Sixth Amendment grounds that his attorney did not represent him effectively.

Lamarre was convicted in 2009 of selling crack within 1,000 feet of a school and is serving time at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. He claims his attorney failed to present to the court criminal information about the lone witness who identified him as a drug dealer.

“You could tell the kids had read the briefs and prepared based on the questions they asked the attorneys” after each case, said Katherine Kayatta, who served as the court moderator.

Kayatta, a litigation associate at the Boston office of Portland law firm Pierce Atwood, graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School in 2001. She took one of Jordan’s history classes as a junior before going on to study history at Boston College and matriculating at the University of Maine School of Law.

“It’s always great to be back at your alma mater,” said Kayatta, whose father William Kayatta Jr., a longtime partner at Pierce Atwood, recently became a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. “I think the kids are learning a lot today. It’s not often students get to witness what goes on in a courtroom, especially at the highest level in the state.”

The sophomore, junior and senior classes each watched one argument on Wednesday.

Maine’s supreme court hosts its oral arguments at high schools during one week every year. The justices were at Orono High School and Nokomis Regional High School in Newport on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

Jordan will provide his government students with more hands-on experience this spring, when he takes them on an annual, three-day trip to Washington, D.C. Jordan said the trip’s focus is learning, not sightseeing, and that his students may have opportunities to meet U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins of Maine.

Cape Elizabeth High School last had a chance to host the SJC when its name came up in a lottery about seven years ago. When court representatives scouted the campus, they determined it was unfeasible to host arguments in the auditorium because the stage was set up for a theater production. This year there was no such conflict.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this chance to come,” Jordan said.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.

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Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court held oral arguments on Wednesday in the auditorium at Cape Elizabeth High School.