Thursday, May 28, 2009

Judge Visit

Before May 14, 2009, I had never met any judges nor witnessed any trials in my life. As soon as I heard of this field trip to the U.S. Federal District Court to see the Honorable Mark L. Wolf, I anticipated an amazing experience and I couldn’t have been more correct. After analyzing Jude Wolf’s life and work in class, I became even more excited to meet him.
Initially, I was informed that we would be seeing a case involving taxes, much to the chagrin of my fellow classmates and me. But, when we entered the courtroom, one of the defense attorneys revealed that instead, we would be hearing something far more fascinating. The new case involved a felon being charged with illegally possessing a firearm and the intent to distribute crack cocaine. The judge presiding over the case was the Honorable William G. Young, the second most famous judge at the Federal District Court in Boston. While observing both the judge and the attorneys I learned several different things. I noticed that the attorneys and the judge actually debated Supreme Court precedents during the trial. I never realized how strictly judges are “supposed” to adhere to the previous Supreme Court rulings as well as the Constitution.
Following the trial, which will be continued next week, our class had the rare pleasure of speaking to not only Judge William G. Young, but also the prosecution and defense attorneys. Judge Young made it a point more than once to note that having the attorneys stay after the trial has never happened in his experience. The attorneys described how they would make their arguments in front of the jury and how they will deal with the surprise witness’ right to plead the Fifth Amendment and not incriminate himself. To gain an even greater perspective, Young enthusiastically told us the story of Chambers v. Mississippi, which also involved a defendant’s right to not self-incriminate. Then I heard various opinions on the roles of the jury. The defense attorney quickly used the old Law School trick that jurors only or mostly remember what they heard first and last and then everything in between becomes gray. To rebut this assessment, the judge’s clerk, Mrs. Smith, an extremely diligent and observant woman, protested that this was a mere myth. She claimed that she has constantly seen jurors take notes on much of what they see and hear, and make reasonable approaches to finding a verdict based on all the evidence. Immediately, the defense attorney nodded in defeat.
Next, we were taken on a tour of the rather expensive building. Whilst sitting in an empty courtroom we were informed that the gigantic four arches on the walls of the room represented equality. Our tour guide also noted that the judge’s seat is not that much higher than everyone else’s. This serves as a symbol for the reality that the judge is no different than you and me.
Finally, the greatest moment of anticipation occurred when we ate lunch with the Honorable Mark L. Wolf in a private room. We asked many in depth questions that Judge Wolf graciously replied to with in depth answers. I learned that the courthouse hears “a lot” of drug related cases, that Wolf believes judges should not be elected because they lose their character and serve only the government, as seen in Communist nations, and that he never intended on being a judge, amongst other things.
Meeting two famous judges, observing an intriguing trial, and being entertained by a couple of bizarre, yet amusing characters on the subway ride home ensured a fun and educational field trip that I will remember for the rest of my life.

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