N.C. Court of Appeals hears cases at Western Carolina

A panel of judges from the N.C. Court of Appeals visited Western Carolina University on Oct. 3. The judges came to WCU to hear arguments in two cases concerning Western North Carolina.

The first case concerned a traffic stop in Buncombe County and the legality of the ensuing questioning which lead to a discovery of marijuana in the stopped car and the second case dealt with a case involving real estate in the region. Both cases were heard in the A.K. Hinds University Center Theatre.

The appearance of the court at WCU was the fourth time that the court had met on campus. The first appearance of the court at WCU was in 1995. The court assembled on campus again in 2001 with the Supreme Court of North Carolina, and both courts met in Cullowhee again in 2005.

“We wanted our students to appreciate how the appeals process differs from a trial, and to understand the role of our appellate judges in the deciding questions of law,” said Debra Burke, WCU professor of business law and among the organizers of the event on campus.

While at WCU, the judges also visited several classes and spoke to students about what it is like to be an appellate judge in North Carolina.

“I felt like the experience of having the Court of Appeals on campus was very valuable,” said Ashley Pimentel, a sophomore from Charlotte. “I got to see things in person that I have been learning about in my Criminal Justice class.”

For many WCU students, the event was required for class credit, but because the court was held in the small capacity theatre, many students were unable to get a seat. For those who could not get in or could not attend, video of the cases will be made available online in the coming weeks.

Many students said they were astonished by the atmosphere in the courtroom. Unlike televised court cases, the court held at WCU was punctuated by judges questioning the lawyers as they spoke and some lighthearted banter between the judges and attorneys.

For many, the event offered a chance to see an event in person that they normally would only study in classes or read about in their textbooks.

The judges who heard the cases at WCU were Judge J. Douglas McCullough, Judge Sam J. Ervin IV, and Presiding Judge Sanford L. Steelman Jr.

Judge Steelman remarked on the enormous crowd in attendance, saying that at many college campuses the court visits, attendance is meager at best, and he was startled to see a standing room only audience at Western.