AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP/Mass.gov) – UMass Amherst hosted oral argument to the Massachusetts Appeals Court for members of the public to see justice system in action Monday morning.
“The legal system, the judicial system, is something that affects everyone so getting an understanding of it, I think is very important for people,” said Senior student Elizabeth Tenerowicz at UMass Amherst.
The Appeals Court consists of a chief justice and 24 associate justices who decide over 1,000 cases each year. The justices review decisions that the trial judges from the several departments of the Trial Court have already made in many different kinds of cases. During a typical oral argument session, the panel of justices hears six cases, usually three criminal cases and three civil.
Retired Associated Justice Judd Carhart from the Massachusetts Appeals Court told 22News, “Everything in court is always open to the public, people don’t realize that it’s a transparent proceeding so we get to have the public there at all steps of the proceedings, and its really good for public education.”
The Appeals Court almost always sits in panels of three. The composition of the three-judge panels changes regularly, so that each justice has the opportunity to sit with every other justice. During the event at UMass Amherst, Associate Justices Mary Thomas Sullivan, William J. Meade and Maureen Walsh presided during the session. Each side of the case has 15 minutes to argue, during which the justices may pose questions to the attorneys.
Following oral argument, the three justices on the panel write a decision, known as an opinion, for the court. In the small number of instances in which the justices disagree, there may be more than one opinion; then, two justices would constitute the majority, and the other justice, the minority.
Tenerowicz told 22News this experience has helped her in her decision for her education, “I really want to do something that makes a difference, maybe some type of civil rights law, employment law, something like that.”
Following a decision by the Appeals Court, some cases are appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Judicial Court agrees to hear a small number of such cases. The vast majority of appeals are decided only by one of the two courts.