HERMON, Maine — Julia Gagne wants to be a lawyer, so she was excited Tuesday when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court convened at Hermon High School, where the 16-year-old is a junior.

“Seeing them in action was amazing,” Gagne of Levant said in between arguments. “That’s going to be me one day.”

None of the three cases involved civil rights law, which is what Gagne would like to practice some day, but she found the arguments interesting anyway.
“I want to help people who have been discriminated against,” Gagne said. “I want to help them feel accepted and welcome.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s visit to Hermon High School was the first stop in the justices’ annual fall road trip. The court will convene Wednesday at Mount Blue High School in Farmington and on Thursday at Scarborough High School.

The cases considered Tuesday included one in which an undercover confidential informant wore a wire into a man’s home to record a drug deal. The appeal questioned whether the Maine Constitution requires police to obtain a warrant before recording a conversation in a suspect’s residence. The other two cases involved drunken driving convictions, both of which were appealed by attorney Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth.

Toothaker, who had not previously argued at a school before, said that he enjoyed the question-and-answer period with the students after the arguments were presented.

“They asked really good questions,” he said. “And I could tell by the questions they asked which were budding prosecutors and which were future defense attorneys.”

Abbie Hyson, 16, of Carmel stayed after the state supreme court adjourned to talk with Toothaker about his arguments.

“I just like to hear people’s points of view and all the information they bring to them,” she said when asked what she liked about sitting in on oral arguments. “I probably would have asked a lot of the same questions the justices did if I could have.”

Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said before the court convened that it is critically important for citizens to understand how the judicial system works because it is “a key part of our democracy.”

“We are hoping that students will take away both a better understanding of how appellate law works and a better understanding of those constitutional issues [in the cases] they will hear about today,” she said.

The court has heard oral arguments each October since 2005 in high schools around the state. Last year, justices convened at Yarmouth High School, Presque Isle High School and Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln, according to Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the court system. Over the past decade, the court has visited 29 high schools and heard more than 85 appeals before students and faculty. The visits are arranged at the invitation of local legislators.

Before the justices convene, students receive copies of the parties’ legal
briefs, Lynch said. Although students are not able to question the justices, the attorneys answer questions from students after the arguments. When the cases are decided, the schools receive a link to the decision to provide to the students.

There is no timetable under which the justices must issue their decisions.