Students observe live case before Hawaii Supreme Court

Students from area high schools and the University of Hawaii at Hilo witnessed attorneys arguing a real case before the Hawaii State Supreme Court on Monday at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center.

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Students from area high schools and the University of Hawaii at Hilo witnessed attorneys arguing a real case before the Hawaii State Supreme Court on Monday at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center.

Arguments presented in the appeal of property division in a Big Island divorce case, Colleen P. Collins vs. John A. Wassell, are believed to mark the first time the high court has convened to hear a case on Hawaii Island. The proceeding is part of the state Judiciary’s Courts in the Community outreach program, which aims to educate the public about the judiciary’s role in government and its function in resolving disputes in a democratic society.

“The point for us being here today was to allow students to see justice in action in the real world as opposed to in the abstract,” said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. “You can talk about what the separation of powers means, you can talk about the role of the courts, you can talk about the rule of law. But when you actually see it in action, the students can see how it works, understand our role, understand the parties’ role, understand the truth-seeking function that the courts engage in, which is asking probing questions of both sides, trying to get both sides of the story, trying to ultimately have everything that we need to be able to make a fair and just decision in the case.”

After the arguments were made by Hilo attorneys Joy San Buenaventura for Collins, who appealed the division of property, and Andrew Iwashita for Wassell, the students asked the lawyers questions in a session closed to the media and public.

Student Kainalu Bachiller said he was impressed by both parties’ lawyers and the five Supreme Court justices, who peppered the attorneys with pointed questions throughout the arguments.

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“They’re really good at remembering case law,” he said. “And I think it’s amazing that they can have a memory like that, where they can memorize and think right off the top of their heads, just like that, without having to look at their papers, and being able to argue … without constantly having to look back at their previous research.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.