ASSIGNMENT: OBSERVING A COURT PROCEEDING
Reports received after the due date will not receive full credit; the later the report, the fewer the points.
This assignment is to attend an actual court session and then to write a reflective report about what you thought about what you observed. This assignment will be fun for some and drive others of you crazy. The purpose of giving you an assignment with so few parameters is to allow you the freedom to explore and follow your own interests.
Some students may want to watch a criminal proceeding, which usually has little to do with Business Law, but it will still expose you to the structure and workings of the legal system, albeit for criminal, rather than civil, law. Others may want to observe a domestic docket where matters dealing with divorce, child custody, etc. are addressed. My preferred option is for you to observe a small claims hearing or a civil docket where many contractual issues will be apparent. The benefit of attending a small claims hearing is that you will be able to see the entire process in one hearing, rather than just a segment.
In the past, some students have managed to view a tribal court: tour a military jail; observe a Department of Public Safety driver’s license revocation hearing; be a witness for a marriage presided over by a judge; attend a federal court case in Oklahoma City; and a few have been enthusiastic and have even managed to have themselves arrested. This last option does not count because you must be an observer for this assignment, not a participant.
What I am not telling you is where to go; when to go; how long to stay (but do try to stay at least an hour…..); nor what to wear. (Hint – do not wear shorts, hats, tank tops, or carry weapons.) Be advised that court is not always in session. If you just “drop by” there will probably be nothing to see. Please try to do some research and a little preparation before you go. You might begin by asking friends and co-workers what they know of the court system. Please resist the temptation to call the Court Clerk. While the Court Clerk’ office is charged with assisting people with court related concerns – they are not tour guides. Fellow students are also useful resources. You may attend together in small groups if you wish but please be reasonable and respectful.
If you attend a session in Stillwater Municipal court, I will be the presiding judge. This option is fine and will certainly provide a more explanatory view of the court process than you will receive in many County Courts, but you will just see me, again. You may want to do the assignment in two steps – first just find a courthouse and go inside, read the room directory, look around, then leave. Whew! The hard part is over! Then, now that you know where the door is, go back on a day when you have more time and sit in on a session.
Please note this is not a field trip. The court sessions you observe are not examples – they are real. Please be respectful. Be aware that the people there have cases before the court and you may know some of them. You may even be some of them. You will probably feel a little awkward. You should try to be as unobtrusive and inconspicuous as possible. There is certainly nothing wrong with attending any open court session, so you do not have to be sneaky, but please be courteous. While most proceedings are open and public, some proceedings are closed, and no one but those involved directly in the case are admitted. Juvenile cases and guardianship proceedings are two such examples, so you will not be able to observe these sessions.
Be aware that if you are the last person left in the courtroom, the presiding judge will probably ask if you are on the docket or if you were skipped, overlooked, etc. This is a good opportunity to ask any questions you have – they will be happy to answer, probably. If you are the only observer in a contested court proceeding, like a divorce, each attorney will probably assume you are a witness for the other side. If anyone asks, politely tell them you are observing court as part of a class assignment – they will then probably ignore you. Judges in Payne County are fairly accustomed to having students observe from time to time. If you attend court in another jurisdiction, do not be surprised if you are treated as a novelty because not many people are in court just to watch. There is sometimes a lot going on in a courthouse – remember, this is not a guided field trip. You will probably get a more “real” view if you do not announce ahead of time that you are observing. There are really very few wrong ways to do this assignment, as long as you actually attend a court session. Past activities do not count. If you have been to court in the past, you must still go again to complete the assignment. For variety, you may wish to attend court in another jurisdiction like Oklahoma City or Tulsa. You can attend court in your hometown if you have a weekday trip planned. Any court, anywhere, will work. Be creative.
What will you gain? At a minimum you will overcome your fear of court so that if you are ever involved in a court related matter, at least it won’t have been the very first time you have ever been in a courthouse. You will also learn that not everything is a courtroom drama.
Q1. “I’ve been to court. Do I have to go again?
A1. Yes, if you want the points. Perhaps you can go to a different type of court session, or be a companion to a fellow classmate with less experience. There is always more to learn.
Q2. How long does my report have to be? Does it have to be single spaced or double spaced?
A2. This is your only assignment for this class, do a good job; proofread and spell check and use aragraphs and complete sentences – all of it. No, you may not write your report on your phone. Remember, the point is for you to learn about the judicial process, so make sure you reference Chapter 3 and at least know what you were watching. If you wonder if your report is enough, it probably isn’t.
Q3. What does the report have to contain?
A3. Your name; the course name and section (LSB 3213-and your section number); the date you attended and the location; the name of the court; the judge’s name; the type of court session observed; whether the proceeding was a pre-trial proceeding, a trial, or a post-trial proceeding; and what you thought about what you saw. I have been to court, so I don’t want to read two hundred repetitive descriptions of WHAT transpired, rather, a subjective account of your impressions ABOUT what you observed. What surprised you; what made you uncomfortable, if anything; did you recognize anything we have covered in class; what did you think about the procedure, etc.? Again, there are no wrong answers.
Please turn in your report in the Dropbox (AND bring a hardcopy to me in class if you are not in the online section). There may be some delay in your grade being posted for this item depending upon how many are turned in at the same time. This assignment is essentially pass/fail so I will not hurry as much to post your grades as I will with exams. If you do the assignment appropriately and on time, you will receive full points.
Please begin to think about when you can fit this assignment into your schedule right away. Do not procrastinate. If there is absolutely no time, at any point in your schedule, ever, and you never, ever get a day off from work, and you cannot ever, ever get to a court hearing of any sort anytime during regular business hours (and judges do go to lunch so between 12:00 and 1:00 is usually bad), then contact me NOW and I will help you brainstorm about alternatives. Do not wait until later. I believe the towns of Harrah, Owasso, and Perkins all hold municipal court in the evening hours, so this might be an option for some with full time employment.
NOTE: This assignment is generally considered fun by former students (after it is over). Don’t get nervous and upset. Remember, your trip doesn’t have to be big, extravagant, or special. Just any regular court proceeding will do. My goal is to expose you to the reality of some aspect of the judicial system. You may explore as much or as little (within reason) as you desire. It would be useful if, after you attend, you also attempt to access the court records online to see what you can ascertain about the case, or cases you observed in person. oscn.net
Have fun, but hold it inside until you are at least back in your car!
#OBSERVING #COURT #PROCEEDING