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Justices Show Boys Town Students What It’s Like to Serve on Nebraska Supreme Court

Nebraska Supreme Court Justices

This article is written by Scott Stewart. It was posted to

Hands shot up into the air at the Boys Town Music Hall last Thursday afternoon as justices of the Nebraska Supreme Court fielded a variety of questions from students wondering how much money they made, how they remain unbiased and what it took to land a spot on the bench.

The court visited Boys Town High School as part of its high school outreach program. Students watched an oral argument and spent about a half hour peppering the justices with questions and occasionally filling the auditorium with laughter, smiles and a whistle at the mention of the justices' salaries.

Asked about whether having legal problems as a young person would prevent a career in the law, the justices told the Boys Town students to look up the story of Shon Hopwood, a Nebraska bank robber who eventually became a lawyer and Georgetown University law professor. Responding to a question about embarrassing moments, they also mentioned a time that a chair broke on the bench, causing a justice to fall backwards during an oral argument.

Shiann Janousek, a Boys Town senior from Fremont, said the visit provided her peers an opportunity to learn what goes into being a judge or an attorney.

"It gave all the students here an opportunity to see that firsthand and to know what it could be like to go through a court case or, if any of the youth want to go into law school, they got some better insight and information on how to do so," Janousek said. "It was really cool that we could ask questions afterwards because I felt a lot of the youth here understand what was going on."

The court heard oral arguments on State v. Manjikian, a case involving issues of double jeopardy and whether a defendant made a free, voluntary, knowing and intelligent plea of no contest. Students in attendance reviewed the case in advance, and Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Douglas F. Johnson gave them an overview of the court process shortly before the session.

Among other issues, defense attorney Jason E. Troia of Dornan, Troia, Howard, Breitkreutz & Conway PC LLO asked the court to consider whether the judge should ask the defendant entering a no contest plea if they understand they are waiving a right to an appeal, too. Melissa R. Vincent of the Nebraska Attorney General's Office said that it's implicit in a no contest plea that the outcome can't be appealed.

Students watched the justices ask questions about precedence and how they should weigh American Bar Association recommendations against how courts have traditionally operated in Nebraska. After the hearing, the students were urged to look up a case – State v. Irish – that repeatedly came up in the oral arguments because it examines how the court assures a no contest plea is voluntary and intelligent.

Boys Town High School senior DeAngelo Speaks of Balitmore said he was surprised how quickly the arguments wrapped up.

"It was definitely more chill and laid back than any TV lawyer would be because it was like really brief, get to the point," Speaks said. "It gave me an insight on how hard these judges work and how hard their job really is. It's not just you put on a robe and become a judge. It really takes time."

Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican said it's important for high school students to have confidence in the court system and learn how democratic institutions operate.

"Part of our job is to communicate with the community – by community, I mean with the state as a whole – on the broader issue of what is the law, what is the court system, what is civic responsibilities and so forth, and we find that visiting high schools is one of the ways we can perform that part of our job," Heavican said. "Every time we go to a high school, we find it to be a learning experience for us and we are delighted by the whole process."

A few high schools are chosen annually to participate in the court's outreach program. Students at Scottsbluff High School will receive the court on April 29 to mark Law Day. Last year, the court visited Millard North High School, Grand Island High School and Schuyler High School.

Asked why the justices chose Boys Town by one of the students, Heavican said they look for schools that want to host an oral argument – which requires heightened security, with the State Patrol treating the meeting space as an official state courtroom.

"We got a very enthusiastic response from Boys Town," Heavican said.

Boys Town Superintendent Bob Reznicek described the visit as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for the organization's students and staff. John English, a Boys Town social studies teacher, said the event was a field trip that came to campus and provides a chance to connect real examples with classroom lessons.

The Nebraska Supreme Court also held oral arguments and a question-and-answer session Thursday morning at Creighton Law School. The court has visited the state's law schools annually for more than 30 years as part of its effort to raise awareness and promote civics education, according to a release.