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Mass. appeals court convenes session at UMass

Jackson Cote/Daily Collegian

The basement of the Campus Center was converted into a courthouse yesterday as more than 50 University of Massachusetts students and staff filled the seats to watch five criminal and civil cases unfold from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Associate justices C. Jeffrey Kinder, William Meade and Ariane D. Vuono presided over the session. After the audience rose for the incoming judges, Vuono introduced the panel and thanked Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Michael Malone, chair of the Political Science Department Jane Fountain, senior lecturer of legal studies Alan Gaitenby and former associate justice Judd Carhart for attending the panel and making the court cases at the University possible.

Vuono explained the rules of an Appellate argument, in which each side has 15 minutes to present their side to the panel. She said the justices had already reviewed the briefs and trial transcripts, so lawyers will get right to the point with their arguments.

The first case was Commonwealth v. Heather M. Shurtleff following a criminal offense. The 2016 case dealt with the alleged rape, assault and battery of a minor by her stepfather. The attorney for the defendant was William S. Smith who argued that the initial judge did not instruct the jury on elements of the case, insufficient evidence of the crime and recantation by the child involved in the case.

“How does that alleviate the risk?” Vuono asked Smith. “I mean, if you have a situation where you have a child, the risk is that the child has had these experiences and even if the child recants, for whatever reason, that does not eliminate the fact that there’s a risk involved.”

Following, Megan Lynn Rose representing the plaintiff took the stand. Her argument stood that the victim’s stories were all consistent and that there was an ample amount of evidence of indecent assault and battery.

The second case to stand was another criminal case of Commonwealth v. Pedro Arroyo, involving gunfire with intent to kill. The case presented a debate on whether the gunfire was done in mutual exchange.

Katherine Essington, attorney for the defendant, argued on the case of a mutual shootout. Trial Judge Sweeney’s decision to not call on the witnesses and that was an act no more than self-defense.

The attorney for the plaintiff was Kelsey Baran. Baran argued that, while it was a rapidly evolving gunfight, the defendant had time to formulate calculated steps behind his action. She also argued that there were missing witnesses, not because they could not be located, but because they could not be contacted, thus validating Judge Sweeney’s decision to not take into account the hearsay statements by the eyewitnesses.

The third case was Commonwealth v. Jose Barbot, a criminal drug trafficking case in which the central issue in question was the constitutionality of the “stop and search.”

The defense counsel argued that the stop and search by the police was unconstitutional, as it was based on nothing more than a “hunch.” In the initial hearing, the defendant won based on this argument. The plaintiff, the Commonwealth, was appealing this case because it could be argued, based on the officer’s experience, that the stop was constitutional resulting the defendant to go to prison.

At 11 a.m., with approximately 40 people in the courtroom, the three associate justices turned their attention to the civil cases on the docket. One of which was Alan MacDonald v. Jamison Barr and others. The case involved the plaintiff MacDonald, who was seeking to reverse the previous trial court’s decision to dismiss his business/commercial claims.

MacDonald’s actions were brought against the defendant Jenzabar Inc., a software company located in Boston, where MacDonald was formerly the chief financial officer. McDonald’s attorney Colin Hagan argued that the company improperly refused to honor stock option exercises.

Hagan said MacDonald was “stiff armed by the company for two years,” arguing that the verdict of the trial court –who ruled against MacDonald –was inconsistent.

However, Michael D. Blanchard, an attorney representing Jenzabar and the other defendants, argued that there was nothing inconsistent about the trial court’s verdict, adding that the jury in that case ruled in favor of the defense “because of the bad faith of the plaintiff.”

“This case shouldn’t have gone past the movement to release,” Blanchard said.

Following the case of Alan MacDonald v. Jamison Barr, the associate justices heard from an attorney from the office of Robert J. Hennigan, Jr., representing the town of Auburn –the plaintiff in the case of Town of Auburn v. Eagle Property Management LP and others.

The case involved a building designated as a single-family residence, owned by Eagle Property Management who, the plaintiff’s attorney argued, illegally used the property for multi-family use of the property, leading the town of Auburn to bring an action for injunctive relief in the Worcester Housing Court.

The hearings concluded at noon. Following a brief recess, the three associate justices returned to the room to field questions from those who attended the event –most of whom were students.

“How much does the oral argument weigh into your decision-making?” Diane Curtis asked, senior lecturer of political science at UMass and director of pre-law advising.

To answer, Meade said that he felt free to ask lawyers questions and interrupt them whenever he saw fit; attorneys should be able to proceed with their arguments despite interruptions from justices.

Vuono also noted that the oral arguments make a big difference, saying, “It’s also important to listen to what the lawyers tell us.”

Kinder piggybacked off of Vuono’s opinion; he similarly stated, “Sometimes you come [into the courtroom] with one mindset and leave with another one all together.”

Liz McLaughlin and Kristina Stelmashova are both junior legal studies majors who came to listen to the criminal cases for their class “Criminal Due Process.”

“I’m just excited to see the process,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve never been to court before so this is going to be first real seeing of it, so I’m just really excited to see the process of it.” Stelmashova said she’s been to court in Springfield before, but it was really hectic so she was looking forward to seeing a different set-up.

Brittni Larcom is a sophomore political science major who also came for her class “Criminal Due Process.” Larcom said during the course, she has learned about court proceedings and a major part of the course is attending a criminal court proceeding and writing a paper on it.

“This is an opportunity to do it on campus,” Larcom said.

Caeli Chesin can be reached at mchesin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @caeli_chesin. Jackson Cote can be reached at jkcote@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.

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