COLBY — Excitement shone in Jamie Berkgren’s eyes as the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court fulfilled her request for an autograph Monday night.
The Oakley High School sophomore called it a “once in a lifetime chance” to visit with Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and the court’s associate justices and to watch them work as the court conducted a special session Monday at Colby High School.
An estimated 400 people gathered in the school’s auditorium to watch the court hear arguments on two cases, one from Wyandotte County regarding a question of jury instructions on considering self-defense in a murder trial, the other a case from Rice County alleging professional malpractice in failure to specify retained interest in mineral rights in a deed.
Following the session, the justices met with the public in a reception in the school’s commons area.
Earlier Monday, Justice Caleb Stegall visited Berkgren’s school.
“He spoke to us about what he does, his journey, how he made it there. That was really an eye-opener,” she said.
“I’d like to have a degree in law, so it was cool for me to experience it first-hand,” she said.
Berkgren especially was excited when Nuss told her he received his law degree from the University of Kansas — her choice for law school.
She wasn’t the only one excited about the special session, the 14th such traveling session for the Supreme Court since it started the practice in 2011, and the eighth evening session for the court.
It was the fourth time Mark Tremaine, assistant professor of criminal justice at Sterling College, brought students to the court’s special evening sessions for some extra credit.
“At this point in the semester it was easy to get 13 students who wanted to travel six-plus hours because some of them desperately need the credit,” he said with a laugh.
Tremaine also is a practicing attorney, but said he’s not yet argued a case in front of the state supreme court.
“I haven’t had that pleasure yet. I’m not sure I’d want to,” he said.
Two of his students, Aaron Schmidt, Talequah, Okla., and Micheal Merriweather, Los Angeles, said they found the Rice County case more interesting.
Merriweather, who plans a career in law, has been accepted into two law schools in California. Schmidt plans a career in law enforcement.
In the Rice County case, members of the Falen family sold property in 2008 but retained the mineral interests. The contract reflected that, but the deed did not. The mistake went unnoticed because both parties understood the Falens would retain the interest and receive royalty payments, according to a case summary in the court’s program.
When the property was sold in 2014 to LCL LLC, the deed again did not reflect the Falens’ retained mineral interests. The company claimed ownership, and the Falens sued Rice County Abstract and Title, claiming negligence, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
As each attorney used his 15 minutes to argue his case, the justices peppered them with questions, trying to reason when the original injury occurred in the case — with the original sale in 2008 or the sale in 2014 — and how the statute of limitations would apply.
“The appellate side really got hounded in this hearing,” Meriweather said of the abstract company’s attorney. “They were on him and he was trying to answer questions but some of the statutes and stuff he was explaining and some of the facts he was bringing up were a little outdated, so it didn’t work out for him too well.”
Schmidt was impressed with how quickly the attorneys were able to respond to the justices’ questions.
“It’s just really cool to see these guys in their element,” he said. “It was really cool to see how everything collides and how the judges were able to put those in perspective.”