About 250 students, school staff and community members rose in unison Tuesday in the Mesa High School auditorium as the Arizona Supreme Court convened on stage to hear arguments in two real cases.
"This is an actual courtroom now, not just a Mesa High School auditorium," court spokeswoman Cindy Lidman told the audience, which included students from Fountain Hills High School and Dobson, Mesa, Red Mountain and Westwood high schools in Mesa.
Four times a year the court leaves its regular facility in downtown Phoenix and convenes at different locations around the state as part of a community outreach program.
"I don’t know why they picked Mesa High, but certainly we jumped at the chance," principal Pete Lesar said.
He said the event provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience for his students.
"They got to see real-life applications of the concepts they’ve learned in the classroom," he said.
Many students expressed particular interest in the second case on Tuesday’s docket. It dealt with a 2002 police interrogation of a 16-year-old student at a school in Pima County.
In that case, police refused to allow the boy’s mother in the school office where he was being interrogated. During the interview, the boy made incriminating statements.
"He never said, ‘I want my mom here,’ " said attorney Elizabeth Hurley, who argued on behalf of the Pima County Attorney’s Office.
Attorney Lee Tucker, however, said a police interview conducted by a group of adults puts a juvenile at a severe disadvantage, and parents should be allowed to assist their children during the process.
"In a whole range of spheres, we have parents acting on behalf of their child," Tucker said.
The Supreme Court’s task was to decide whether police violated the boy’s right against self-incrimination.
"I thought both attorneys brought up good points," said Dobson senior Kevin Miehe, 18.
"The court has a tough decision, I think," she said.
The first case dealt with a criminal suspect’s right to request a new public defender during trial.
At the conclusion of both hearings, the justices stayed on stage to answer questions from the audience.
There was some humor. One student, for example, asked the justices to describe surprising courtroom experiences, and Justice Michael D. Ryan shared tales from his years as a trial court judge.
"I had a defendant come dressed as a female for the sentencing," Ryan said. "And he didn’t do a very good job."
Ryan also described the time a juror decided to take a "potty break" in the middle of testimony without telling anybody where he was going.
But the justices also had serious messages for the students.
Justice Ruth V. McGregor gave special encouragement to the girls in the audience to pursue any dreams they might have.
McGregor said that when she graduated from high school in 1961 in Iowa, she never imagined a law career could be in her future.
But she pointed out that all four attorneys who presented arguments Tuesday were women.
"It never occurred to me that I could be a lawyer — let alone a judge," she said.