WAILUKU - Convening on Maui for the first time since the mid-1800s, the Hawaii Supreme Court left an impression on students and attorneys who filled the Baldwin High School Auditorium for the hourlong session Thursday morning.
"I thought it was kind of cool," said Jonah Hu, a Baldwin High School junior who was among about 470 students from seven Maui high schools in the audience. "I never had this kind of experience before. It was interesting."
Classmate Alissa-Maree Nakamura said it was exciting to watch as the justices interjected to ask questions of attorneys during their oral arguments.
Deputy Prosecutor Artemio Baxa makes his arguments in a drug case before the Hawaii Supreme Court involving Stephen Cramer Jr., who was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The court convened in the case of state v. Cramer, a 2nd Circuit Court criminal case.
On Jan. 11, 2011, Stephen Cramer Jr. was sentenced to a 10-year prison term after being found guilty of second-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, possessing drug paraphernalia and third-degree promotion of a detrimental drug.
Cramer, represented by attorney Hayden Aluli, is challenging his sentence on the grounds that he wasn't allowed to have his attorney of choice represent him at his sentencing hearing.
Deputy Prosecutor Artemio Baxa argued that the trial judge denied Cramer's request, made on the day of sentencing, to have a new attorney represent him and delay his sentencing in the interests of "orderly and timely" administration of justice.
The juniors and seniors in the audience Thursday had prepared for the court session by studying a curriculum developed by the Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center and the Students for Public Outreach and Civic Education of the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law.
Seanna Yoshioka, another Baldwin junior, said that she and her classmates learned about constitutional amendments, including the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney that is at issue in Cramer's case. She and the other two Baldwin students are in a "Participation in Democracy" class taught by history teacher Scott Clarke.
Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald said that in addition to being historic, the session was significant because "it gives us an opportunity to reach out in the community, particularly to reach out to our young people."
Recktenwald said it was key that the students had the opportunity to learn about constitutional amendments and the case, as well as to watch practice arguments, before attending the oral arguments.
"So the experience is that much more meaningful," Recktenwald said.
During their preparation, he said, some of the students may have thought of the same questions that they heard justices ask the attorneys Thursday morning.
"It makes that experience much more interactive, helps students feel much more involved," Recktenwald said.
The session marked the second time that the Supreme Court has convened in a location other than a courthouse as part of the Judiciary's Courts in the Community program. In February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments at Farrington High School on Oahu.
The court, which usually schedules sessions at Ali'iolani Hale courthouse in downtown Honolulu, also has convened at the Kapolei courthouse on Oahu for two family law cases, Recktenwald said.
He said the goal is to increase citizens' understanding of constitutional rights and the rule of law by letting them
see how the Supreme Court works.
"I think that's critically important because our justice system depends on understanding of citizens," Recktenwald said. "There's no better way I can think of to foster understanding about what we do and our system of justice."
While the oral arguments Thursday proceeded in the same way they would have in the downtown Honolulu courthouse, the audience was much larger than usual, Recktenwald said.
"All of us applaud and appreciate the court's efforts in making the justice system more accessible to the people here in Maui," Aluli said as he began his oral argument before the court Thursday. "I am truly humbled and honored and delighted to be part of this historic event."
Deputy Public Defender Jim Rouse said he got to watch oral arguments before the Supreme Court for the first time Thursday.
"It exceeded my expectations," Rouse said. "It was a total thrill on a couple of levels."
He said the first part occurred Wednesday when he spent about four hours with Seabury Hall juniors to help them prepare.
"I was so impressed with their level of engagement," Rouse said. "They were just dialed into the reality of the situation. They understood what it was about and the questions they asked were on point."
Rouse credited Recktenwald for his commitment to providing access to justice to residents.
"He has made it a mission of his to be a good will ambassador for the court," Rouse said. "It's kind of like tearing down the walls of fear or the unknown. The community can kind of relax a little bit and see this process and not feel intimidated by it."
Rouse said that the Seabury students he spoke with after the oral arguments seemed "genuinely impressed."
"I got the sense that they realized that this was a big deal, that it wasn't just something they had to do," he said. "They probably have more insight into the justice system than their parents do."
Tracy Jones, a Maui County deputy prosecutor and 2013 president of the Maui County Bar Association, said she thought it was important that the Judiciary and Hawaii State Bar Association continue to support such programs so Neighbor Island residents can have the same opportunity to see the Supreme Court in action that Oahu residents have.
"The Maui County Bar Association is delighted to have supported and participated in this really historic event," she said. "It was something new and different for us."
During a luncheon afterward, Jones said Baldwin students asked Baxa, a retired 2nd Circuit judge, how he was able to answer the justices' questions so easily and to provide well-thought-out answers. Jones said the answer was because he was prepared after having worked on the case over many months through the appellate process.
The students also asked Jones and Baxa about how they became deputy prosecuting attorneys. She said they told the students that "they just have to set their goals and work hard."
"If they do that, they can achieve anything," she said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.