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Minnesota Supreme Court visits Fairmont

TOUGH QUESTIONS — High school students lined up to ask questions of Minnesota Supreme Court justices, seen on stage, following an oral argument in the Performing Arts Center at Fairmont High School on Wednesday.

FAIRMONT — The Minnesota Supreme Court held a traveling oral argument in front of students at Fairmont High School on Wednesday.

The court travels twice per year to high schools around the state as part of a program that seeks to teach students about the state’s court system and build the public’s trust, confidence and understanding in the judiciary. Fairmont was selected as the site for this season’s event, which marks the 50th anniversary.

The justices are: Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea, G. Barry Anderson, David L. Lillehaug, Anne K. McKeig, Natalie E. Hudson, Margaret H. Chutich and Paul C. Thissen.

Fairmont students in grades 9-12 attended, along with students from Martin County West, Truman, Martin Luther, Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Redwood Falls and from Blue Earth Area’s law class. The event took place in the Performing Arts Center at Fairmont High School.

The case was the State of Minnesota vs. Savonte Maurice Townsend. It involves a theft that took place in St. Louis Park, with Townsend charged with one count of simple robbery. The case was tried in district court, where she was found guilty and sentenced to 51 months in jail. She appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to sustain her conviction. The case worked its way up to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Following an hour-long oral argument, each justice shared with students some background on their schooling and career.

Students were then given the opportunity to ask questions. They included: What are your thoughts on the Second Amendment? How much do you make a year? How is someone appointed a Supreme Court justice? Do you ever feel like you made the wrong choice? And, has anyone ever bribed you?

Later, the justices were given a tour of the school, escorted by a member of the high school’s mock trial team.

The justices also were served lunch, offered by students in the ProStart Culinary Arts program at Fairmont High School.

Each justice was given a special cutting board engraved with a laser by Parker Better and Hayden Solberg, students in Bob Bonin’s advanced mechatronics class. It included each justice’s name, the Seal of Minnesota and a Fairmont Cardinal head to recognize the 50th anniversary of the traveling oral arguments at Fairmont High School. The wood used was harvested from the former PAC stage and made by members of Brad Johnson’s advanced wood shop class.

Several justices then stopped in AP History and Government classes to speak with students. Justice Barry Anderson spoke with students in Teresa Kiehl’s class. He shared that his law career began in Fairmont in 1979, when he worked at a local firm. When the justices were choosing what school in outstate Minnesota to visit for this year’s traveling oral argument, Anderson suggested Fairmont.

Several justices shared what they most enjoy about traveling oral arguments.

“I love to see the devotion of the communities to education. I’m always impressed when we meet the teachers. And I love to meet the students. They’re very interested in what we do. It gives me confidence in and hope for our future,” said Chutich, who has served on the Supreme Court for three-plus years.

She added, “Sometimes we’re such a hidden branch of government. We like to show what we do and demonstrate that we can function together with very little discord.”

Gildea became a member of the court in 2006 and has been chief justice since 2010.

“Over the course of our visits, we’ve had a chance to interact with about 60,000 students across the state of Minnesota,” she said. “It’s beneficial for the court to meet the future leaders of our country and I always come away inspired. We hope it’s beneficial for them and that they have a greater understanding of the work of the Supreme Court.”

She noted that it’s always interesting to see the unique partnerships between the communities and high schools.

Apoorva Komaragiri, a senior at Fairmont High School and a tour guide for the justices, recognized the uniqueness of the event.

“It’s a really amazing opportunity to be able to interact so personally with people that are so high up and so respected not just in our state but in our country,” she said.

Fairmont High School Principal Jake Tietje was proud of how students interacted with the justices and noted how smoothly the day went.

“I was very impressed with our students and their questions,” he said. “Our students for the lunch did a fabulous job. Feedback from the justices was that this was the best lunch that they’ve had in doing this. I was impressed with our students guides. It was a really valuable experience for our students and an all-around fantastic day.”

On Tuesday evening, 130 community members were in attendance at Holiday Inn in Fairmont to meet and share dinner with members of the Supreme Court and local district court judges for “an informal evening with the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

Gemini Studios recorded the oral argument and it can be viewed online at geministudiosmn.com

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