The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in three cases under appeal at Biddeford High School on Wednesday May 11, resuming their practice of holding court at Maine high schools for the first time since 2019. From the left are Justices Catherine R. Connors, Thomas E. Humphrey, and Andrew M. Mead, Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill, and Justices Joseph M. Jabar, Andrew M. Horton and Rick E. Lawrence. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Students at Biddeford High School got to see and hear part of the judicial process live and in person Wednesday, May 11, when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court came to their school.

The seven justices heard oral arguments in appeals to two criminal cases and one civil case in a school for the first time since 2019 — because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no school sessions in 2020 and 2021. Further sessions, at high schools to be announced, will commence in October.

Students said hearing the cases presented was interesting.

Cayden Ward, enrolled in the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology legal studies program, said what she observed was different than classroom study or visiting a court hearing online — the only option during the pandemic.

Legal studies student Hannah McCurry pronounced the sessions “very good.”

“I want to be a lawyer and my main goal is to be a justice,” McCurry said.


“It’s a big learning experience, honestly,” said legal studies student Logan Beam. “It’s a lot different than being in class.”

“I’ve never been to a court before, it’s a good experience,” said Colby Wise, also of the legal studies program.

One criminal appeal involved a Cumberland County drunk driving case where the reliability of the breath machine that measures blood alcohol levels was called into question by the defendant. Another criminal appeal involved a Penobscot County drug trafficking case relating to search and seizure and waiving the right to counsel. The third case, a civil matter, was an Oxford County case involving alleged negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress involving a workplace death.

It isn’t every day the Maine Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments in appeals cases at a local school, so before they left Biddeford High School on Wednesday, May 11, they paused for a photo with some students. Out front are Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill with students David Bean, Savannah Berry, Baylee Cheetham-Wilmot and Ariana Descoteaux. In the back are Justices Catherine Connors, Andrew Horton, Thomas Humphrey, Rick Lawrence, Joseph Jabar and Andrew Mead Tammy Wells Photo

The justices heard arguments from attorneys and asked a volley of questions. Then they told the students assembled at BHS’s The Little Theater that they would take the matters under advisement and issue their decisions at a later date.

Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill said it was good to be hearing cases in Maine high schools again.

“It’s so important there be transparency,” she said, in part. “The judiciary is the third branch of government and is hidden away. It’s important (for the public) to see we’re real people.”


With the exception of 2020 and 2021, each year since 2005, justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court have held oral arguments in appeals of real cases in high schools around the state, arranged by local legislators — in this case, Sen. Susan Deschambault and Speaker of the House, Rep. Ryan Fecteau.

Deschambault said she had approached the court about coming to Biddeford High School a few years ago — but the pandemic intervened.

“It was an honor you came to our high school,” she said. She also praised the justices for venturing to smaller towns in the far reaches of the state, like Fort Kent and Machias. “Those students need to see this,” Deschambault said.

BHS Principal Martha Jacques said she was pleased the justices came to the high school, noting the prospect of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court hearing cases at the school had been a desire for some time.

Different classes filed into The Little Theater as each new case was heard. Biddeford attorney Harry Center — a 1980 Biddeford High School graduate — emceed the event, giving a brief overview of the procedure and the cases.

Legal studies instructor Maureen Redmond said students were excited to have an opportunity to hear the arguments. She said during the program, students typically visit a district or superior court, but COVID put that on the back burner.


“We’ll do a debriefing on what we heard,” said Redmond.

Legal studies students Sierra Basford and Sophia St. John each had similar thoughts about the justice’s questions to the attorneys presenting the appeals.

“If I were up there before the justices, I’d be very intimidated,” said St. John.

“I don’t think I could do that, be grilled,” said Basford.

Still, the two said they hope to become lawyers.

Later, the justices stopped briefly for a few words and a photo with students.

“I hope this was an interesting experience for everybody,” Chief Justice Stanfill said. “I hope it was helpful to see real judges — and not just Judge Judy.”

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