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ND jurists visit Rugby High School

By Staff | May 10, 2019

Sue Sitter/PCT North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Jon Jensen (left) discusses legal issues with Northeastern District Judge Michael Hurly (center) and Rugby High School teacher Kevin Leier.

Two North Dakota judges visited Rugby High School last week to meet with students in the Tillman Hovland Auditorium for an informal question and answer session.

The juniors and seniors chatted for more than an hour last Friday morning with Judge Michael Hurly of North Dakota’s Northeast District and North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Jon J. Jensen. Topics covered ranged from the jurists’ educational backgrounds to constitutional questions.

Describing the duties of district court judges, Jensen told the students, “Judge Hurly is one of 51 judges, and if you think about it, it’s pretty amazing what our trial court judges do in North Dakota. They handle 160,000 new cases in a year, and 40,000 cases that are re-opened. So, our 51 trial court judges across the state are handling 200,000 cases a year. That’s an unbelievable number.”

Turning to Hurly, Jensen asked, “and on a typical day, judge, what are all the different types of cases you handle?”

“I could go all the way from a traffic infraction, speeding violation, to not having a driver’s license, all the way to reading someone their rights for manslaughter somebody who accidentally killed someone,” Hurly answered, adding he also presides over probate cases.

“It’s a wide range,” Hurly said.

Hurly and Jensen gave a brief explanation the North Dakota judicial system, pointing out how district court appeals go directly to the state Supreme Court.

“In North Dakota, we’re unusual,” Jensen noted. “We’re only one of nine states that doesn’t have an intermediate court of appeals.”

Jensen and Hurly also discussed constitutional law with the students, focusing on fourth amendment issues.

Jensen asked the students, “How many people brought backpacks to school today? Just about everybody?”

“I need one volunteer,” he continued.

After a student raised his hand, Jensen invited the students to imagine all sorts of contraband in the student’s backpack.

“I know this isn’t true, but we’ll assume that in (his) backpack today, we have some marijuana, a tee shirt that says, ‘I love weed’, and a diary,” Jensen continued, as the giggles grew in volume.

“And what’s significant about his diary is, he’s got a list of all his classmates. And next to some of them, he puts he likes them, and some of them, he puts next to them that he doesn’t like them, and he explains why. And he does the same thing with his teachers in his diary. He has teachers he likes, and teachers he doesn’t like,” Jensen continued. “We’re going to talk about (the backpack) several times today.”

Students asked questions about laws pertaining to searches and evidence seizures in their community and probable cause. They also discussed how laws shape school policies, and asked about how constitutional privacy is protected for people who use cell phones and digital technology.

The judges responded to students with the phrase, “That’s a good question” several times over the hour.

At the end of the session, Leier asked each of the judges to recommend a good book to the students.

“I have one: ‘Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow’, Jensen said. “It’s a really good one if you want to learn why people make decisions. And you can use that across the board. But it really goes into why people make certain choices on everything in the world. What food they buy, what stocks they buy.”

“‘How to Read a Book’, by Mortimer J. Adler,” Hurly recommended. “It changed my life.”

Jensen said the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction partners with the statue judicial system every year to reach out to schools and offer opportunities to meet state judges.

However, Jensen said his appearance at Rugby High came about after Hurly contacted him.

“Judge Hurly had contacted me, because about three years ago, I started a project to go around to different schools,” Jensen noted. “So, in the fall, the Department of Public Instruction actually sends out a letter that invites schools if they would like someone from the judicial system to come out and talk about the judicial system.”

“They’ve been extremely helpful in letting us contact their instructors.”

“Mr. Leier just contacted me, and asked if I’d come over and then I asked Judge Jensen,” Hurly said.

“We actually tried to see if it was possible if we could do a mock trial here in Rugby with Judge Hurly, and have the appeal process, all the way through the Supreme Court,” Leier said a few days after the session. “Logistically, it didn’t work out this year, but our consolation prize, which was fantastic, was that Judge Jensen reached out to me and said he was able to come and meet in our school.”

“It’s not every day you get to have a Supreme Court justice and a district judge there at the same time to answer your questions,” Leier added. “I felt that was a pretty intimate format for the kids; it was pretty one on one, really, so it was a pretty cool experience.”

Leier said of his students’ reaction to the session: “The kids really liked it. I would say overall, they really appreciated the fact that they could take complex law and break it down to be pretty simple for them to understand.”

“We had a lot of discussion after that event, but we also had a lot of good discussion leading up to it in terms of ways students, especially in school,” Leier continued. “We talked about their constitutional rights, specifically the Bill of Rights, and we’ve done lot of work on that this year.”

Leier said the experience showed him how much his students had learned as well.

“It’s like the ultimate assessment from those two individuals asking questions. And having them (the students) being able to understand it and ask questions back was really good.”

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