PAWTUCKET — The stage in the Central Falls High School auditorium has seen a lot of productions over the years, but perhaps none so formal as a session of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court continued a centuries-old tradition of “riding the circuit” and traveled to Central Falls to hear oral arguments in three legal cases. It was no easy feat, as Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell pointed out, as a portable security system, complete with metal detector, along with sheriffs, law clerks, and weighty files and law books, had to be brought in. But when the five black-robed justices entered the room and took their seats at a long table, the roomful of high school students immediately assumed an air of official dignity and quiet respect. Court was in session.
Suttell thanked Schools Supt. Fran Gallo and Central Falls High School Principal Joshua LaPlante for hosting the session and expressed his pleasure at being in Central Falls. He explained that the Supreme Court would be considering cases in which there had already been a trial, and the losing side had asked for an appeal of the ruling.
Suttell explained that he and the four associate justices, Maureen McKenna Goldberg, Francis X. Flaherty, William P. Robinson III and Gilbert V. Indeglia, had been reviewing the briefs, records and transcripts of the cases for the past month and that morning would be hearing arguments from attorneys on both sides. From there, he said the court would adjourn to a side room known as the high school’s “parents’ lounge” and deliberate. He said a written opinion would be issued within the next 60 to 90 days, and promised copies would be provided to the school.
Associate Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg echoed Suttell’s enthusiasm about holding the session at Central Falls High School. “How many of you are thinking of being lawyers?” she asked. After about a half-dozen hands were raised, McKenna Goldberg invited anyone who is interested in law to visit the courthouse in Providence, where she promised they would be “embraced.”
The students, a mix from English, Sociology, and Youth and Law classes, sat quietly as the justices peppered the attorneys on both sides with questions regarding details of the cases. At the conclusion of the court session, Schools Superintendent Frances Gallo thanked the Supreme Court justices for their time, saying, “This has been a tremendous honor and a very strong learning experience. She singled out McKenna Goldberg for her comments, saying they reflected “the teacher within you.”
Despite the lengthy discussions that at times were complex and full of legal terminology, the students overall seemed riveted by the discussions, and several said later that they they felt inspired.
“I thought it was a nice experience because this is what I want to do. I was thinking about going into law or law enforcement, and now I’m thinking about being a lawyer,” said Jalexis Susana.
Vanessa Semedo said she found it interesting because they were actual legal cases being heard. “I was getting a better look at what lawyers do,” she said. She added that she had been “kind of in the middle” about what career paths to choose, and now would consider law school.
Andrew Teirero said he found the session “a really good experience.”
“I never would have had this perspective about what the Supreme Court is,” said Teirero. He added that not only is he planning on attending law school, but after witnessing the justices in action, he would like to see himself in that spot one day.