Dozens of Carbon County high school students; as well as area residents had the opportunity to see just what the Pennsylvania Superior Court is all about during a recent special session of the court at the county courthouse in Jim Thorpe.
The two-day session, held Tuesday and Wednesday in courtroom 1, allowed the people in attendance to learn about the process of superior court; as well as see just how each appeal is argued by top attorneys. The panel of judges presiding over the sessions were Judges Mary Jane Bowes, Christine Donohue, and Judith Ference Olson.
Donohue, a native of Carbon County, explained that the Superior Court hears appeals from cases of the courts of common pleas from all over the region that state that there was a mistake in the court's ruling.
The attorneys for these cases come before the three-judge panel and argue for and against the decision. The panel then discusses the facts of the case and assigns one judge to write a summary. A formal vote to either affirm the court's decision or change it is made usually within six months following the appeals hearing.
"We don't have a lot of discretion on the panel," Donohue said. "We have a very restrictive standard of review."
She pointed out that 84 percent of the cases the Superior Court sees are usually affirmed, meaning that there was no error in the court of common pleas' ruling.
Bowes added that the panel of judges works only with the facts of the case that were presented to determine if there was a mistake.
She noted that one thing that the audience might find surprising is the types of cases that come before the court.
"We listen to cases from the most serious offense a person can do to divorce proceedings, child support, and even a case of improperly being barred from playing bridge."
Olson pointed out another fact that might have surprised some of the people in attendance.
"Some may be surprised to see three women on the panel," she said, adding that 10 out of the 15 elected commissioned judges on the Superior Court are women.
"This is a unique panel," Olson said, noting that all three judges are members of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County.
She added that this is a great learning experience for the students in attendance.
"We are happy to have the students here with us. We don't see that often."
The three judges agreed that they were delighted to have the opportunity to hold a special session in one of their own's home counties.
"President Judge Roger Nanovic was kind enough to invite us to be here," Donohue said.
She added that she had said during her campaign in 2007 that she would like to bring a Superior Court session to Carbon County.
She noted that Judge Bowes, who has the most seniority of the three judges, has graciously allowed her to preside over the sessions.
"I'm delighted to do so because the hometown folks should see her," Bowes said of Donohue. "She is a wonderful and strong addition to the court."
This is only the third time that Carbon County has held a special Superior Court session over the last two decades.
Most of the time, Superior Court sessions are held in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.