Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Nearly 900 Attend Supreme Court Off-Site Sessions

After two years, the Ohio Supreme Court returned to the road.

On hiatus due to the pandemic, the Supreme Court recently convened its 78th and 79th Off-Site Court sessions, held at the University of Akron School of Law.

“This unique opportunity has given us the chance to see and explore a side of the justice system we typically only get to read about,” said Casey Johnson-Bowers, a student at Cuyahoga Falls High School.

Typically a one-day event, this fall’s Off-Site Court marked the first time cases were heard at the same location for two consecutive days outside Columbus. Close to 900 people, including 757 students from 12 Akron-area high schools, experienced the appellate process in person.

Off-Site Court provided a different kind of courtroom drama than the fictional ones the attendees are used to watching, but there was no shortage of suspense. Many observers were riveted by the rapid-fire questioning from the justices as they sought clarification from the attorneys about the points presented during oral arguments.

“It made me nervous,” said Ellet Community Learning Center student Dhira Mishra. “I saw how hard it is (for attorneys) to give an answer, and the time limits of having to execute so much in so little time and do it convincingly.”

Started in 1987, the program was designed to teach high school students and local citizens about the state’s judicial system. Informing citizens about how courts operate is especially crucial given the diminishing understanding of civics.

According to a University of Pennsylvania study, 31% of people surveyed don’t know the branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – and only 26% can name all three.

“For American democracy to function properly, our citizens must understand how our institutions of government work,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor told a statewide TV and live streaming audience as the first session began in Akron.

Along with firsthand exposure to how the judicial system works, the students realized the relatability of the people in the center of the process – the justices and lawyers.

Off-Site Court is designed to break down educational barriers and misconceptions by allowing students to speak with the justices before Court sessions begin, and with the lawyers following the presentations of their cases.

“When I think of Supreme Court, you think about people who are on these high podiums with cloaks, saying things like, ‘The council will decide your fate.’ But they’re actually human beings, just like us,” said Cornelius Adams, who attends Akron Early College High School.

The informal question-and-answer segments also gave the young minds a better understanding about the core role of courts and lawyers – resolving disputes.

“There are people here to help others who can’t help themselves and provide them justice,” said Akron Early College High School student Sharita Kami.

Summit is only the fifth county to host the educational endeavor more than once, joining Cuyahoga, Lucas, Hardin, and Washington. A set of two-day Off-Site sessions in 2012 – the last time the Court was on the road for two days – were held at different venues, making the latest sessions the first to be held on consecutive days at one location.

To date, the Court has traveled to 71 of Ohio’s 88 counties, enabling 42,266 Ohioans – including 33,362 students – to witness its sessions in person.