BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Nearly 500 students from Raleigh, Fayette, and Wyoming counties came together in the auditorium of Woodrow Wilson High School on Tuesday, October 18, 2022.

It wasn’t for a pep rally or a sports game, though.

Instead, they piled in to hear attorneys argue a case before the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. Lawyers made cases in front of the state’s five-justice and students who were able to attend the hearings, as part of a program called “Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students” (LAWS).

The students were able to experience, first-hand, the complexities of some of the cases, including Harlee Beasley v. Mark A. Sorsaia, a Putnam County case that involved the treatment of animals.

“It seemed like a really hard case to argue against, because there wasn’t very much to go on, so his interpretation of the law was very interesting,” student Addie Lusk noted, after hearing the argument.

Chief Justice John Hutchison had helped launch LAWS in Raleigh County in 1999, when he was a judge in the Tenth Judicial Circuit. Since then, more than 6,000 students in 35 counties have participated, according to Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Hutchison, a longtime advocate of judicial transparency, said LAWS is an important part of that mission.

“It takes away that mystery of, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t go into that courtroom,’ or ‘I’ve got to go into that courtroom,'” the Chief Justice said. “You can have court anywhere. It’s the process of making sure it’s open and (that) it’s accessible, to everybody.”

Justice William Wooton from Raleigh County was also on the bench.

Local attorneys and Raleigh Circuit Court judges H.L. Kirkpatrick, Darl Poling and Robert Burnside, Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Ewing and Wyoming Court Judge Micheal Cochrane, had visited high schools in their judicial circuits before the court day, in order to teach students about cases on the docket.

Lawyers from the area, including Stephen New, Anthony Sparacino and Chip Williams, sponsored LAWS and showed up for court to hear arguments.

Justices said the program helps state residents to learn more about and to be more comfortable with the legal system.

“One of the missions of the new court is to make the court accessible and help folks understand the process because again, fostering that respect for the rule of law, and our courts, and the system, and checks and balances, it’s foundational that they understand,” noted Justice C. Haley Bunn.