Roaring Fork High School students sit in on two Colorado Court of Appeals hearings

Senior Assistant Attorney General Patrick Withers (left) and attorney Eric Samler answer a student's question at Roaring Fork High School during a Colorado Court of Appeals Courts in the Community hearing Tuesday.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times

Students at Roaring Fork High School heard oral arguments made to a three-judge panel of Colorado Court of Appeals on Tuesday as part of the Colorado’s Courts in the Community program.

Judges heard appeals in two cases while in front of an auditorium of students at Roaring Fork High School. The Courts in the Community program is an educational outreach program that was first enacted by the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in 1986. It gives high school students a glimpse into the Colorado judicial system by bringing actual court proceedings outside of Denver courtrooms to communities across the state.

Students heard appeals in cases relating to Colorado open records law and arson. In the first case, The Sentinel Colorado v. Kadee Rodriguez, the Aurora newspaper Sentinel Colorado asked the court to review a trial court’s decision not to release the recording and meeting minutes of a closed executive session held by the Aurora City Council regarding a motion to censure one of its members. Kadee Rodriguez, Aurora’s records custodian, denied the Sentinel’s request for the recording of the meeting’s minutes.

In the second case, The People of the State of Colorado v. Bradley Todd Clark, Clark was convicted of arson and criminal mischief and sentenced to four years in prison for setting a fire inside a Durango grocery store. A lawyer for him asked the court to review the trial court’s decision in 2021 to allow prosecutors to tell the jury that he had been arrested in 2007 for allegedly setting fire to a dumpster, which he argued was irrelevant but still affected the outcome of the case.

After judges heard arguments from attorneys in both cases, students were given the opportunity to ask questions of the attorneys. Students questioned them about how they prepared their arguments and why they felt their arguments may prevail over the other.

They asked attorney Rachael Johnson what she meant by her argument that the city of Aurora rubber-stamped its decision to censure a member of the City Council during an executive session. Students also asked attorneys in the second case what the statute of limitations is for arson in Colorado.

Attorneys Corey Hoffmann (left) and Rachael Johnson (right) answer student questions at Roaring Fork High School during a Colorado Court of Appeals Courts in the Community hearing.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times

“You guys are grilling us more than the judges did,” said Patrick Withers, senior assistant attorney general, during a question-and-answer section after the second case’s hearing.

After both cases were heard, Chief Judge Gilbert M. Román, Judge David Furman, and Judge Terry Fox joined in the question-and-answer portion. The judges shared their career paths and how they ultimately ended up on the bench for the Colorado Court of Appeals. 

Judge Terry Fox answers a student’s question at Roaring Fork High School during a Colorado Court of Appeals Courts in the Community hearing Tuesday.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times

It was the first time the Courts in the Community Program was brought to Roaring Fork High School, said Jon Sarché, deputy public information officer at the Colorado Judicial Department. 

He said the community program works with schools across the state to make education on the appeals process more accessible to students, and it’s something both teachers and students are enthusiastic about.

“It was really great to see (the students) so engaged and interested, and the caliber of their questions was just terrific. It just shows that the teachers did a great job preparing them and that they were working to get the most out of it that they could,” he said. “The appellate process isn’t something you see in the news that often unless it’s the U.S. Supreme Court, so it’s just a part of the process that most people don’t see that much or hear much about.”