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Students get a day in court
during Supreme Court visit to Storrs
May 10, 1999

ballroom was transformed into a courtroom and a classroom on April 29, when the Connecticut Supreme Court traveled to the University of Connecticut. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three separate cases during their all-day visit to Storrs.

The justices leave their Hartford courtroom once a year and venture to a college or other location in the state. Since the outreach effort began several years ago, the Supreme Court has held sessions at the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford and Quinnipiac College School of Law, among others. Last month's visit was the Court's second to the University's Storrs campus.

The visits are part of an ongoing effort to make the Court more accessible and allow students and members of the general public to see the Court in a setting other than their courtroom.

The visit attracted scores of students and other members of the university community to a large room in South Campus generally used for school dances and other large functions. The audience, many of whom scribbled notes during the arguments, heard three cases that the justices selected based on the important legal issues they addressed.

Before and after each case, attorneys familiar with Supreme Court proceedings addressed the audience. Prior to the oral arguments, they explained what the case was about and what the important legal issues were, and after each case, they reviewed the proceedings.

In State v. Maurice Billie, the defendant was convicted of two counts of manslaughter in the first degree as an accessory, one count of commission of a felony with a firearm and one count of carrying a firearm without a permit. On appeal to the Appellate Court, Billie claimed that the trial court improperly struck testimony of an expert witness regarding behavioral changes caused by a drug that he allegedly used on the day of the crimes. The Appellate Court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion by striking the testimony but found that the error was harmless because the jury would have returned the same verdict if they'd heard the expert's testimony. The Supreme Court reviewed the Appellate Court's findings.

In State v. Nabil Kaddah, a Syrian national whose native language is Arabic was arrested and charged with the murder of one woman and the attempted murder of another. After his arrest, Kaddah signed a form waiving his Miranda rights and subsequently made numerous incriminating statements. In an appeal of his conviction, Kaddah argued that a language expert should have been allowed to testify in order to rebut the state's theory that he understood English fully. He also claimed that the trial court should have instructed the jury that the victims didn't have to cause his extreme emotional disturbance in order for him to rely on that defense.

In Gonzalo Cotto v. Sikorsky Aircraft Division, Cotto sought to recover damages for wrongful termination after he was let go following an incident in which he refused to display an American flag at his workstation. The trial court struck the complaint. The Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly held that the plaintiff's refusal to display the flag wasn't protected by the First Amendment or by the state constitution.

Once the Supreme Court reaches a decision in a case, the justices must write their opinion. It usually takes two to four months from the time of oral arguments for the Supreme Court to release their decision.

Allison Thompson