Supreme Court of Missouri, The Missouri Bar host Law Day activities, award students in Law Day competition

5 May 2011


Supreme Court of Missouri, The Missouri Bar host Law Day activities, award students in Law Day competition


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – About 70 people, including approximately 25 students from Cuba Middle School, attended the first Law Day activities hosted by the Supreme Court of Missouri tonight in Jefferson City. Missouri’s event, which was co-sponsored by The Missouri Bar, focused on “Defending the Unpopular Defendant.” This coincided with the national Law Day theme, “The Legacy of John Adams: From Boston to Guantanamo,” established by the American Bar Association.

“Law Day is a special day set aside for the citizens of Missouri and across the nation to rededicate ourselves to the ideals of equality and justice under law,” Judge Patricia Breckenridge said in welcoming the crowd. “What makes our government a model of democracy is its three separate co-equal branches of government designed so that each could place a check on the power of the other. Power unchecked leads to abuses. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas said, ‘Those in power need checks and restraints lest they come to identify the common good for their own tastes and desires.’”

Millie Aulbur, director of citizenship education for The Missouri Bar, next made a presentation about the history of Law Day in the United States and Missouri as well as the legacy of John Adams, famous in part for defending British soldiers accused of killing colonial patriots in March 1770 in Boston.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Timothy R. Cisar, a criminal defense attorney from Lake Ozark who is a former recipient of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Atticus Finch Award. In his remarks, Cisar noted that every lawyer – or even lawyer-to-be – has been asked at some point how lawyers can represent those accused of crimes like murder, terrorism, child molestation, rape, armed robbery or kidnapping.

“My stock answer is: ‘The guilty ones are easy. It is the innocent ones who are hard,’” Cisar said. “If you believe that simply charging a person with a crime does not by itself make that person guilty of that crime, then we believe that person should be given an opportunity to defend him or herself … with effective assistance of counsel. In fact, that is exactly what our constitution guarantees us. … If you are not passionate about defending the rights of those unpopular defendants, those charged with these hideous acts, you should not work in the criminal defense field.”

In discussing the principle established in the 1760s by English jurist William Blackstone that it is “better that 10 guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer,” Cisar said that one thing even scarier than representing an unpopular defendant is representing an unpopular defendant who is actually innocent.

“The ones you believe are innocent and yet still get convicted – those are the tough ones, the ones where you do not sleep at night,” Cisar said. “In those cases, you take solace and comfort in your knowledge that you did your best.”

Following the keynote address, Supreme Court of Missouri Fellow Mary V. Moore Johnson, a lawyer and professor at Southeast Missouri State University, announced the winners of a student Law Day competition. Nearly 90 eighth-graders studying American History at Cuba Middle School worked in teams of one to three students to develop websites focusing on the national Law Day theme. Teachers from Cuba Middle School selected 12 finalists to send to the Supreme Court for judging. The final winners were chosen by Supreme Court Judges Patricia Breckenridge and Mary R. Russell. Approximately 30 students – along with their parents; their teacher, Rhonda Koppelman; and their principal,  Patricia Tavenner – attended the award ceremony.

“I can assure you that, as a result of this competition, there is not one eighth-grader in Cuba, Mo., who does not understand John Adams and the contributions he has made to our great country,” Koppelman said before introducing her students. “And they all had a good time creating their websites.”

Winning the first-place gold medal were Trevor Barreca, Ryan Ketchen and Austin Ware. Their website, www.thejohnadamsexperience.yolasite.com, was recognized for having great content and navigation; a clean, professional look; and a unique animated video depicting the Boston Massacre. Winning the second-place silver medal were Kelsey Brewer and Melanie Robertson. Their website, www.doyoureallyknowjohnadams.yolasite.com, was recognized for having a great layout; sophisticated technology featuring games and videos; and extensively researched information. Winning the third-place bronze medal were Kacey Doyle, Ike Harmon and Lexxie Lederle. Their website, www.johnadamswebsite.yolasite.com, was recognized for an eye-catching design; use of key words and columns to help readers scan the site; and accuracy of information provided about the Boston Massacre. All students competing will receive Law Day certificates recognizing them for their efforts.

In closing the evening’s activities, Judge Breckenridge said, “As we celebrate Law Day tonight, we are reminded that the rule of law preserves our democracy, safeguards our liberty, and sustains our founders’ vision and fundamental values for our country. That is something we all can celebrate each and every day as we enjoy the freedoms we have in the United States of America.”

The Law Day event was held in the Division II courtroom of the Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City. In addition to the students, guests included Supreme Court and circuit judges; Supreme Court lawyers and staff; representatives of The Missouri Bar; members of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; lawyers from the state public defender’s office; individuals representing the Missouri Board of Law Examiners; and individuals scheduled to be sworn in as new Missouri attorneys at a ceremony to be held in the same courtroom tomorrow morning. After the formal activities ended, guests enjoyed refreshments and a tour of the historic building, which has been home to the Court for 104 years.

Law Day was established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Last month, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a proclamation officially declaring May 1 to be Law Day in Missouri. In his proclamation – read aloud during tonight’s events by Missouri Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. – the governor “urge[d] the citizens of Missouri to observe Law Day in the spirit of appreciation for the protection and freedoms we all enjoy under the law” and “call[ed] upon members of the legal profession, educators, civic organizations, public officials and the media to promote the observance of Law Day in Missouri.”

Quoting Eisenhower, the governor’s proclamation states that “it is fitting that the people of this Nation should remember with pride and vigilantly guard the great heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under law which our forefather bequeathed to us ….”

Photographs from tonight’s activities are attached along with the program from tonight’s event, which includes biographical information about Cisar as well as information from the ABA detailing this year’s national Law Day theme.

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Missouri Law Day 2011 program.pdf


Photo of Judge Breckenridge welcoming guests to Law Day 2011
Supreme Court Judge Patricia Breckenridge welcomes guests to the first Law Day celebration hosted by the Supreme Court of Missouri.


Photo of Chief Justice Price reading the proclamation at Law Day 2011
Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. reads the governor's proclamation declaring Law Day in Missouri.


Photo of Millie Aulbur thanking Rhonda Koppelman at Law Day 2011
Millie Aulbur, director of citizenship education for The Missouri Bar, thanks Cuba Middle School teacher Rhonda Koppelman for taking the time to teach her eighth-graders about our system of government and laws and about the important role John Adams played in the history of our nation.


Photo of Judge Fischer introducing Timothy Cisar at Law Day 2011
Supreme Court Judge Zel M. Fischer introduces keynote speaker Timothy R. Cisar.


Photo of Timothy Cisar speaking at Law Day 2011
Keynote speaker Timothy R. Cisar, a criminal defense attorney from Lake Ozark, speaks about "Defending the Unpopular Defendant."


Photo of Timothy Cisar with Oath at Law Day 2011
Cisar, holding his oath of admission as a Missouri attorney, to explain the ethical obligations attorneys have to uphold the constitution and represent to the best of their abilities all clients, even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes.


Photo of Mary Johnon and Rhonda Koppelman at Law Day 2011
(From left) Supreme Court of Missouri Fellow Mary V. Moore Johnson, a lawyer and professor at Southeast Missouri State University, listens as Cuba Middle School teacher Rhonda Koppelman describes her eighth-graders' work in building websites for this year's Law Day competition.


Photo of First Place Team at Law Day 2011
The gold-medal winners in the 2011 Law Day competition -- (from left) Austin Ware, Trevor Barreca and Ryan Ketchen -- with Supreme Court judges Zel M. Fischer and Patricia Breckenridge.


Photo of Second Place Team at Law Day 2011
The silver-medal winners in the 2011 Law Day competition -- (from left) Melanie Robertson and Kelsey Brewer -- with Supreme Court judges Zel M. Fischer and Patricia Breckenridge.


Photo of Third Place Team at Law Day 2011
The bronze-medal winners in the 2011 Law Day competition -- (from left) Ike Harmon, Lexxie Lederle and Kacey Doyle -- with Supreme Court judges Zel M. Fischer and Patricia Breckenridge.


Photo of Cuba Middle School students Law Day 2011
Eighth-graders from Cuba Middle School visit the Supreme Court Library after the awards presentation along with their principal, Patricia Tavenner (far right), and their American History teacher, Rhonda Koppelman (second from right).