MUSCATINE — Area students had a unique opportunity to learn about the role of courts in the state and how the court system works with a visit from Iowa Supreme Court Justices.
"My goal is for people to see the value in the court system that I see," said Chief Justice Mark Cady Wednesday at Muscatine High School.
Several justices made visits Tuesday and Wednesday to schools in Muscatine, Louisa and Washington counties. The court also heard oral arguments Tuesday night at Muscatine High School in the case of the State of Iowa v. Lamar Cheyeene Wilson from Johnson County District Court. Wilson was appealing convictions and sentences for voluntary manslaughter, assault with intent to cause serious injury, and intimidation with a dangerous weapon from a 2017 shooting in the Iowa City Ped Mall.
Cady discussed the role of the court and gave examples of landmark cases that changed society, including one that started in Muscatine.
"Susan Clark started this nation's journey on integrating our school system," he said. "It took 86 years later before the United States Supreme Court finally did it and it took some time after when the country actually applied that law, but it started with Susan Clark. That's the significance of that case and your community is at the center of what now is one of our proudest judicial movements in creating integrated places in our country."
The Muscatine School Board voted Monday to name the combined Central and West middle schools after Clark. The schools will combine and Central will close at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Juniors Lanie Knouse, 16, and Adam LaGrange, 17, both agreed hearing the chief justice speak was an interesting experience.
"I learned a lot," Knouse said, and added her morning class discussed the Wilson case presented in the auditorium the night before. LaGrange said he learned if a person is wrongly convicted, "they can be very nicely compensated."
Social studies teacher and department chair Rachel Hansen helped organize the visit. She said she hoped students got a better understanding of the justice system. Cady discussing Clark was "powerful and impactful," Hansen said, and hoped students recognized there are real world examples of decisions from the judicial system in the community.
LaGrange said he didn't like the West Middle School name change. He and Knouse said they didn't know much about Susan Clark before the discussion, but after hearing from Cady, they knew more about Muscatine history in the court system.
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Cady also answered questions from students including what it's like to be a judge and how difficult the job can be.
"Our work is not only focused on the cases that come into our court," he said, "we also work to build and process adjustments so, that (the system) works fairly for everyone."
Some days are good, he said, and others are difficult. The court is presented with many challenges, he said, such as the pretrial detention or bail system. The court is working on identifying ways to change the system. He said, "too often we've identified people can be incarcerated before they even have a trial because they don't have the financial means to post bail."
A judge for 35 years, Cady said he started as a trial judge, has served on the Supreme Court for 21 years and has been Chief Justice for nine years. He said the court is continuing to build public trust and confidence, which includes getting out into the community, "so people can see how we do our work and why we do our work and what we are trying to achieve."
The judicial system, an important branch of government, is operated by humans, he said, and humans make mistakes.
"What's more important for courts is to try to identify how those kinds of mistakes can be made and then try to correct those mistakes so they're not made again," he said.
The example he gave was implicit bias. Bias, he said, can interfere with "sound decision-making" so court staff and judges across the state engage in training to recognize it. The court system can "adversely impact people's lives" he said, because a criminal record can be attached to an adult indefinitely. The court is attempting to remedy that by expunging juvenile records and getting juvenile offenders into community programs rather than prosecutorial court.
"We're trying to find ways in which juveniles can at least escape this problem of having a criminal record hold you back in life because the justice system shouldn't do that," he said.
At the end of the event, Cady said the visit marked the 190th high school the justices have visited and he hopes the community outreach creates interest and understanding in the court system.
"It feels good it go home at the end of the day knowing that you worked in a way that will help advance our future, make us better than we have been," he said of being a judge.