State Supreme Court visits campus
Six justices heard argument on two cases
DANBURY, CONN. — From due process and Facebook photos to hard, cold facts and admissible evidence, students in the Division of Justice and Law Administration at Western learned from the highest court in the state what the legal world is really like.
As six justices from the State Supreme Court filed into the university’s Westside Campus Center Ballroom on October 19, 2011, several hundred people stood at attention — most of them WCSU students. With options in legal studies, paralegal studies, law enforcement, corrections and criminology, the JLA program offers more than 500 majors and teaches up to 2,000 students every year.
The court heard oral argument on two cases — one civil and one criminal — as part of an “On Circuit” program designed to give the public a better understanding of the justice system by hearing cases around the state. The appellate court usually hears cases in Hartford.
“The experience for the students took the cold, detached facts they read in many cases and brought to life the human element and a bit of drama involved in each of the arguments,” said Terrence Dwyer, associate professor of JLA. “This experience was eye-opening for the students in that they were able to witness actual attorneys and judges working out the issues before them and the appropriate legal remedy to the matter before the court.”
WCSU Professor of Legal Studies Charles Mullaney said this event was an educational opportunity for everyone to closely observe a prestigious judicial body and to enhance their understanding of the role and responsibilities of the often-mysterious appellate court system.
The civil case involved an elected town official who refused to perform her duties because of alleged environmental issues. After suing the town of Watertown in 2006, Town Clerk Virginia Stewart was awarded more than $243,000.
The criminal case involved a violation of probation sentencing based on incriminating Facebook photos. Defendant Alia Altajir is serving a three-year sentence in Niantic women’s prison for a 2004 drunken driving accident that killed her 18-year-old friend Dustin Church of Branford.
In Altajir’s case, defense attorney, Maura Buckley, argued that the Superior Court Judge violated her client’s due process rights by allowing the prosecution to submit Facebook photos of her during the sentencing hearing. The 26-year-old defendant was sentenced to five years in prison, suspended after a year.
The Facebook photos showed the defendant drinking and partying at various out-of-state locations while on probation; she was not to leave the state without permission. Buckley claimed the photos were inadmissible evidence, even though the court said the photos indicated that the defendant had no remorse. Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue responded to Buckley by stating that the “Facebook page remained a shrine to alcohol and partying” and showed a lack of maturity and responsibility on the defendant’s part.
Watching the argument from all sides from a student’s perspective, Dwyer said, “definitely put a heartbeat to each of the cases, a person whose particular situation hung in the balance. As a learning experience it was an incredible opportunity for the students to participate, even just as spectators, in the legal system they will one day join in one form or another as practitioners.”
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.