On Jan. 23, the New Mexico Court of Appeals took its show on the road, setting up court in a lecture hall at Valley High School in Albuquerque. A three-member panel consisting of Chief Judge Jonathan Sutin (`63), Judge A. Joseph Alarid and Judge Cynthia Fry (`81) heard oral argument in the case of State v. Hernandez, in which James Hernandez was appealing his conviction of shoplifting more than $250.
Valley students filled the lecture hall, keen to see firsthand the legal profession in action. To help them better understand the proceedings, four first-year UNM School of Law students visited with the Valley students the week prior to the argument, discussing the facts and issues of the case, the trial and appellate process and answering any questions. Prepping the law students and the high school students were three Albuquerque lawyers, led by Lynn Mostoller (`04), an associate at Keleher & McLeod, sole practitioner Tony Jeffries (`75) and Gordon Little (`83), a partner with Little & Turner.
"For high school students to learn about our court system, get them exposed to the real thing, is very exciting," says Mostoller, who coordinated the event as chair of an Albuquerque Bar Association committee. "And it was great for the lawyers involved to actually see students given a better idea of what the profession is all about."
Two more appellate arguments are planned for February at Valley High School, and later in Santa Fe and Farmington. Through these live arguments, Court of Appeals judges seek to expose the legal system to students around the state. "No one doubts that education of the public in a positive way about the important role of lawyers and judges in the society is necessary," he says.
Valley High School, which has a legal studies program, was chosen through a partnership with the University of New Mexico School of Law’s Pipeline Project, which encourages minorities to pursue higher education. Volunteering their time were lawyers from the Albuquerque Bar Association and UNM law students Esperanza Lujan, Othiamba Umi, Al Hutchinson and Javier Martinez.
"I was really impressed by the students' knowledge and enthusiasm about the law as we discussed legal theory and concepts about the court system," says Umi. "Seeing the Court of Appeals for the first time allowed me to connect what I've been learning in the classroom to real world justice."