State court of appeals visits KU for Constitution Day

Dole Institute of Politics hosts hearings with judges panel

A three-judge panel of the Kansas Court of Appeals consisting of, from left, judges G. Joseph Pierron Jr., Steve Leben and Michael B. Buser listened to Kansas City, Mo., attorney Kristi Hartmann debate the first of three cases at Kansas University’s Dole Institute of Politics as part of the university’s Constitution Day activities.

Attorney David Magariel stood before a three-judge panel that was peppering him with questions Wednesday.

He was doing his best to answer them and advocate for his client at the same time. Magariel was trying to convince the Kansas Court of Appeals to give a new trial to a Johnson County father convicted of battery against his son because the jury was not given an instruction about parental discipline.

Magariel said attorneys from both sides during the trial mentioned parental discipline, but jurors didn’t have a choice to consider it in their instructions for deliberations.

“Do you believe that when the jury went into that jury room they understood that ordinary reasonable parental discipline is not battery?” Judge Michael B. Buser asked.

Magariel responded the instructions seemed to limit jurors to considering the act of battery only.

“Maybe at an extreme end they could say: Why does defense counsel keep talking about this? The instruction is straightforward. We’ve been given the law,” he said.

These were among the dozens of legal questions judges Steve Leben, G. Joseph Pierron Jr. and Buser asked attorneys who argued three cases Wednesday. But this was not the typical courtroom setting.

The panel heard the cases at the Dole Institute of Politics on Kansas University’s West Campus as part of KU’s annual Constitution Day activities. About 20 people attended the court session, including first-year law students who were getting a look at the real proceedings in action.

The appellate court will conduct more hearings this week at Kansas State University and Washburn University.

Sean Bates, a first-year law student from Newton, was glad to see the judges grilled the attorneys much the same way law professors do to their students.

“This made a lot more sense of law school,” Bates said.

The judges answered questions about the process and how they make decisions. Pierron said judges rely on their own experience in some cases.

“We have a lot of things that we have to base our decision on,” Pierron said. “You’ve got the facts, and you have the law, which we are bound by. There is no one simple philosophical approach that we use.”

Leben said a judge’s decision can often be classified as liberal in one case but more conservative in a separate case.

“Most judges tend to be mostly pragmatic,” he said.

The judges did not make rulings Wednesday in the three Johnson County cases they heard. They will issue written decisions later.