NM Court of Appeals Judges Take to the Classroom

Judge Linda Vanzi
Judge Linda Vanzi (`95)

The University of New Mexico School of Law's relationship with the New Mexico Court of Appeals became closer during the spring 2011 semester, when four of the court's 10 judges taught courses at the school. Sharing their expertise with students are Judge Michael Bustamante (`74), Judge Jonathan Sutin (63), Judge Roderick Kennedy and Judge Linda Vanzi (`95).

Bustamante and Sutin are co-teaching for the second time New Mexico Court of Appeals Decision Making, which provides a rare inside look into what goes on during case deliberation.

Judges Michael Bustamante and Jonathan Sutin with students
Judge Michael Bustamante (`74), left rear, leads a discussion while Judge Jonathan Sutin (`63), far right, waits to weigh in.

"Judging is an entirely different process than is advocacy. In every case, and particularly in cases in which the result can rationally go either way, judges must determine what is the more principled, rational, logical, fair, common sense, sometimes policy driven result, and must scrutinize their opinions to assure that the opinions withstand outside scrutiny of just those elements," said Sutin. "Lawyers who try cases and handle appeals and have an understanding of how judges think, analyze, decide and write, together with an understanding of such rules as those of preservation of issues and the standard of review, will be better equipped in the trial and appeal of cases than those lawyers who lack that understanding.

"This class gives that understanding to students. The students are judges, with real cases submitted to them to decide as a panel no different than is done on this court. The author must write an opinion, with participants concurring or dissenting. The students have the benefit of the insights and experiences of members of the court teaching the class," he added.

Judge Roderick Kennedy
Judge Roderick Kennedy

Kennedy and Vanzi are making their debuts as adjunct professors. Kennedy is teaching Expert Testimony and Scientific Evidence, intended to provide a survey of common disciplines within the forensic sciences. The course is also intended to promote the critical evaluation and use of scientific evidence and expert testimony in litigation. Kennedy is internationally known for his expertise in the interface between law and science, and is a published author and lecturer on the subject.

Throughout the semester he has tapped into his deep network of experts, many of whom have provided guest lectures, including Robert Forrest, a forensic toxicologist who provided toxicological evidence at the inquest following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.

"If I can take this subject that I've done a lot with and teach students to be skeptical of evidence that has been taken for granted for so long and give them a couple of tools to check its quality, I'll rejoice," said Kennedy.

Vanzi, a regular guest speaker at the UNM School of Law, is leading a section of first-year students through Introduction to Constitutional Law. "I am enjoying teaching," she said. "I love the students and I love learning this stuff all over again. The students really are what makes the class worth it – they are engaged, thoughtful, interesting and definitely make me want to up my game."

April 7, 2011