The Court Program
The Court Program of Youth & Government mimics the judicial branch of the California State Government. The program begins with the lowest branch of the State Courts; the Superior Municipal Branch. Most disputes between parties begin at this level. In other words, any criminal matter (violation of the penal code) or any civil matter (generally dealing with money or injunctive relief) is usually prosecuted first at this level. At the conclusion of a Superior Municipal Court action, the Judge (in a bench trial) or a Jury (in a jury trial) renders a decision.
Once a decision is rendered at the Superior Municipal Court level, the litigants may disagree with the Superior Municipal Court’s ruling regarding an issue of law (issues of fact are not appealable). The disagreeing party may then file an “appeal” with the California Appellate Courts, which is the next step up in the Judicial Branch. Here, the Appellate Courts review issues of law arising from the Superior Municipal Court action. At this level, the Appellate Courts may either decide that the Superior Municipal Court rightfully decided issues of law and “affirm” the ruling, or they may decide that the Superior Municipal Court erred in its decision and “remand” the matter back to the Superior Municipal Court.
If an aggrieved party at the Appellate level is not satisfied with the Appellate Court’s ruling regarding an issue of law, that party may then appeal their case to the highest court in the State of California, the esteemed California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court decides issues similar to that of the Appellate Court. Its decisions, once reached, are final.
The Trial Court section of the California YMCA Youth & Government program gives delegates a chance to feel what it’s like to actually be in a courtroom trying a case in front of a judge. The process begins at T&E II, where delegates with the honor of participating in the trial court program develop their skills as litigators by participating in interactive games, oriented towards public speaking, learning about the process of a court trial, and discovering the secrets of arguing a position in court.
The experience continues in Sacramento, where all delegates are taken through an intense course in trial techniques and are taught the basics of trial advocacy, such as opening statements, closing statements, direct examinations, cross examinations, and courtroom evidence. The students are then assigned a role as plaintiff/prosecutor or defense, and then given a case to work up to trial. The program culminates in the halls of the Sacramento County Superior Court, where each delegate has their day “in court.” There, each delegate has the opportunity to advocate their client’s position to a judge.
The Appellate Court is where the party that lost at the trial court level goes to appeal their loss. An appeal to an Appellate Court is not to re-hear or re-decide the facts of the case as already determined by a judge and/or jury in the trial court, such as whether the defendant violated the law. Rather, the Appellate Court decides “matters of law.” For example, an Appellate Court might decide whether the law passed by the Legislature appropriately applies to a specific person or factual situation, or whether a law is constitutional. There’s no jury or witnesses, just the attorneys and justices.
In the Y&G Appellate Court, delegates serve as either a justice or an attorney. During the Appellate Court proceedings, the attorneys present an oral argument to a panel of justices who hear the case and then draft one or several opinions to decide the case.
Typically three justices, wearing the black judicial robes, serve together on a panel. The attorneys work in pairs, two for the "appellant" (i.e., the party who brought the appeal to the Appellate Court) and two for the "respondent" (i.e., the party who is defending against the appeal). Each attorney will present their oral argument to the justices who question the attorney and pose hypothetical scenarios for the attorney to grapple with. Following the oral argument, the justices work together to draft opinions.
The attorneys and justices prepare for the oral argument, in part, by reading opinions of state courts, statutes and other materials provided to them. No outside legal research is conducted or allowed. Delegates learn to read court opinions and statutes, oral advocacy skills, proper courtroom decorum and terminology, legal reasoning, judicial temperament, and opinion writing.
In the Y&G Appellate Court the volunteer staff actively encourages full participation, cooperation and teamwork by the delegates. Delegates do not need to know anything about courts or law to be in the Appellate Court. However, delegates must be prepared to work diligently during T&E II and the Sacramento conferences in order to be prepared for the oral argument. The oral argument is a confidence-building success for all of the delegates, when each has worked hard to be prepared for the challenge.
Delegates must also apply to be a part of the Judicial Review Program. This program area is very similar to the Supreme Court. Applicants are interviewed and selected at T&E II, and can act as either an attorney or a justice. The Judicial review members are then given a case involving complicated constitutional issues. The justices question the attorneys during their oral arguments, and then meet to write their decisions. Oral Arguments take place in the California Supreme Court chambers.
However, unlike the Supreme Court program, where delegates are given their materials, Judicial Review participants are taken to a courthouse law library to find their own research, which they will use to develop their oral arguments. In addition, delegates will also learn how to conduct on-line legal research. This program gives Delegates the opportunity to explore the vast resources available and used by attorneys on a daily basis.
The Jury Trial program is the advanced version of the Trial Court program. Participation in this program is by selection only. Applicants are interviewed and selected at T&E II, and can act as prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.
The delegates in Jury Trial spend two days in a real courtroom putting on their cases. Before the trial they will learn how to question witnesses using direct and cross examination as well as how to interview potential jurors, make objections, enter evidence and give opening statements and closing arguments. Before putting on their case in chief, the students will learn voir dire (jury selection) and will spend an additional day in the courtroom selecting a jury from a pool of delegates who have been called for jury duty. As such, delegates selected must be able to arrive at the ML/C on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court program also offers a realistic and challenging legal experience. Participation in this program is by selection only. Applicants are interviewed and selected at T&E II as either an attorney or a justice.
Supreme Court members are given a "case" and fact patterns involving interesting and challenging legal issues. Included with the cases are "precedent" case materials (real opinions written by other state and federal courts) whose analysis the delegates apply to their cases.
The attorneys and justices work together to review and discuss the cases with staff attorneys, then work separately to develop their oral arguments (for the attorneys) and questions (for the justices).
The court hearings are held over two days in the California Supreme Court chambers. Attorneys present their oral arguments and are questioned by the justices. The justices then retire to write their opinions.
Delegates who have had experience in the Y&G court program, have been involved in school mock trial or moot court, or who have interest in the law, will find the Supreme Court an outstanding experience.