KINGMAN - High school students from throughout Mohave County gathered Thursday in the auditorium of Kingman High School for a firsthand experience in justice from members of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, Vice Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, and justices Andrew Hurwitz, Michael Ryan and Scott Bales came to hear oral arguments on two cases. Security people ensured everyone entering the auditorium passed through a metal detector and cameras were prohibited.
"I've been looking forward to this for two weeks," senior Matthew Bessee said. "I want to be more educated on our court system."
Juniors Ashley Malaro and Marlene Verdejo made similar comments before justices walked on stage to sit at a table. Lawyers for defendants and the state sat at tables in the front row, with each side given 20 minutes for arguments in the first case and 25 minutes apiece for the second case.
"This will be a good lesson in civics and how the Supreme Court of Arizona runs," senior Michael Geraci said. "I heard about this a week ago and have been looking forward to it."
Geraci plans to attend Northern Arizona University after graduation and major in criminal justice and psychology.
The opening case was Karen Hansen (represented by Sherman Jensen) vs. the State of Arizona (represented by Assistant Attorney General Joseph T. Maziarz).
In April 2005, the Yavapai County Superior Court sentenced Hansen to concurrent 12-year prison terms for fraudulent schemes and artifices and theft of $25,000 or more, both class 2 felonies with one historical prior felony conviction. She was ordered to pay restitution of $65,466.03, with the amount to be paid from 30 percent of compensation earned in prison until paid in full or defendant is released; any balance within 180 days of release.
Since Hansen's commitment to prison, the Arizona Department of Corrections, has withheld money from her prison earnings for restitution payment. That amount was $13.79 as of June 22, 2006, and was sent to Yavapai County Superior Court, which has distributed it to victims.
On Sept. 1, Hansen's attorneys filed a motion for a stay of restitution and return of restitution improperly withheld based on Rule 31.6 of the Arizona Criminal Code and further asked the state Court of Appeals to order ADOC to stop withholding 30 percent of Hansen's prison earnings and to return "all restitution previously withheld."
The Court of Appeals denied the motion on Oct. 6.
Jensen's argument centered on the second paragraph of Rule 31.6, which states, "A sentence to pay a fine or restitution shall be stayed pending appeal."
"Rule 31.6 determines when restitution is final and enforceable," Jensen said. "Only when the appeal is final does restitution come into play."
Justices asked Jensen several questions about the Legislature's role in passing laws governing restitution payments to which Jensen offered a counter argument.
Hurwitz injected an element of humor into the proceedings after being told restitution made thus far was $13.79.
"They don't pay very well do they," he asked.
"No, about 50 cents an hour if you're lucky," Jensen said.
Maziarz then presented arguments for the state and needed barely 10 minutes of his allotted time. He too answered questions from the justices, who at times sounded like devil's advocates supporting the opposite side of the case from that argued by counsels.
Justices adjourned for 30 minutes following the first session and students left the auditorium to discuss what they had heard or use restrooms.
"I thought it was neat to have the justices come and hear what they had to say," sophomore Wes Anderson said between sessions. "It wasn't a trial, just discussion, but the justices had the upper hand on the attorneys."
The second case to be argued was Ruben Garza Jr. vs. the State of Arizona.
Garza was convicted in 2004 in Maricopa County Superior Court on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary stemming from a Dec. 1, 1999 incident. He was convicted in the shooting deaths of Lance Rush and Ellen Franco.
Franco was the estranged wife of Garza's uncle, Larry Franco. She was visiting Rush and his girlfriend, Jennifer Farley, when Garza arrived at the residence.
Farley went outside to speak with Garza, who subsequently forced his way in and fatally shot Rush and Franco.
Attorneys for Garza raised 26 issues during the appeals process: five surrounding jury selection, five involving the guilt phase of his trial; and the rest related to sentence proceedings.