EASTPORT, Maine — Shawn Kelley wants to be a lawyer.
So, the 17-year-old Machias Memorial High School student walked into the gym of Shead High School on Thursday prepared with a notepad and pens. It wasn’t the legal-size pad of yellow-lined paper that attorneys use, but it was close enough.
“I love the way the law works,” he said. “I want to go to law school after college and work in state government or in the State House.”
Kelley of Whitneyville was one of more than a dozen students from Susan Albee’s honors government class who traveled to Eastport to see the Maine Supreme Judicial Court convene in Washington County.
It was the first time the state’s high court had visited Down East since it began visiting high schools around the state each fall in 2005. Eastport was its last stop on a five-school tour that began last week at Sanford High School in York County. The court also convened in Augusta, Winthrop and Bangor this week.
Albee said her class had prepared for the court’s visit by reading the briefs that had been filed in the cases, but had not really understood all the “legalese” or the issues involved. By hearing the arguments and being able to question the lawyers after the arguments, she said, the students learned a lot more than by just reading the documents.
“It was very interesting,” said Kayla Wood, 16, of Machias, one of Albee’s students. “I like how when the lawyers got up there [at the lectern], the justices just started asking them questions one right after the other and turning [the argument] around on the lawyers.”
The case that captivated the students was the appeal by Donna Hall of Dedham of a citation she was issued two years ago by a Maine state trooper for not registering her car in Maine. It was lawfully registered in Louisiana, Hall’s attorney, Steven Juskewitch of Ellsworth, told the court.
The registration had not expired when she was issued the ticket by a neighbor who happens to be a trooper, the attorney told the court. Because she registers her car, votes and owns property in Louisiana, Hall is a resident of that state even though she lives in Maine most of the year, Juskewitch said.
The justices immediately fired questions at the attorney about what defined “resident” under Maine law.
“How can you say that she did not live here?” Justice Andrew M. Mead asked. “She owns property here. She lives here.”
“She enrolled her child in school, why doesn’t that demonstrate an intent to stay?” queried Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley.
“Your client is still here after four years, thumbing her nose at Maine law,” Justice Donald Alexander declared.
Juskewitch bristled and shot back, “That is not appropriate. That is not what she is doing. I take umbrage at that statement.”
The students questioned the attorney after the justices took a break and left the gym.
What if your client lived on Mars and Maine, where would she register her car, one boy asked.
Juskewitch did not take the question seriously.
So by registering her car in Louisiana, she votes there? asked another student.
Yes, the attorney said.
Why doesn’t she just move back there? another asked.
The facts of the case weren’t the only thing that intrigued the audience. A student wanted to know if by expressing emotion, Juskewitch had broken a rule.
“It should be a legal not an emotional appeal,” he said, “but sometimes, you have to put some flavor into it. I need to occasionally express some emotion, especially when my client feels emotional about an issue.”
Can you tell what the justices are thinking by the questions they ask? another student asked.
Paul Cavanaugh, first assistant district attorney for Washington County and Juskewitch’s opponent in the case, gave the students an answer they related to.
“It’s tough to tell what they’re thinking when they ask a question,” he said. “Sometimes, like your teachers, they just ask questions to harass you.”
Cavanaugh admitted Thursday that he had argued quite a few cases before the justices but never from center court. The prosecutor, who lives in Calais and has children enrolled at Calais High School, argued Thursday from the center of rival Shead High’s basketball court as did the other attorneys.
As he began to address the justices, Cavanaugh couldn’t resist mixing a little bit of basketball with the law. He told them and the spectators that he had been asked to step in for his colleague, Mary Kellett, assistant district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, who had argued two cases before the court on Wednesday at Bangor High School.
“I’m not sure why she’s not here today,” Cavanaugh said, glancing over his shoulder at members of the Calais basketball team sitting behind him in the bleachers. “But I want you to know that we never lose in this gym.”
Whether Cavanaugh or Juskewitch claims victory remains to be seen. Unlike basketball, there’s no clock running that has the authority to tell the justices when they must issue a decision.
About 300 students from nearly a dozen Washington County schools attended the two-hour session, which was set up by state Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry.
“We don’t get things like this every day,” Paul Theriault, principal of Shead High, said after the justices had left. “I thought it went very, very well. It was educational and even entertaining at times, especially some of the dialogue between the justices and the lawyers. There was a little bit of levity there I hadn’t expected. The students really were engaged.”