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Photos: Parkway North High students see appeals court without leaving school

Judge James Dowd, a judge for the Eastern District Court of Appeals, left, answers a question after oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Judge James Dowd, of the Eastern District Court of Appeals, answers a question after oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County.

Updated at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 with photos of the event

Parkway North High School students saw Missouri’s court system in action on Wednesday with their school's gymnasium serving as the backdrop.

The hearing on Wednesday played out exactly like one held in the courtrooms in the Old Post Office downtown where the Eastern District is headquartered. But though court proceedings are always open to the public, the judges usually do not have hundreds of people watching them do their jobs.

See photographs from the hearing below by St. Louis Public Radio Photojournalist Eric Lee:

Evan Buchheim, assistant attorney general, right, speaks during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Evan Buchheim, assistant attorney general, right, speaks during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School.
Amanda Stuart, a senior, covers her mouth as she listens during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Amanda Stuart covers her mouth as she listens during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School.
Evan Buchheim, assistant attorney general, speaks during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Evan Buchheim, Missouri assistant attorney general, speaks during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School.
Charlotte Brod, a junior, listens to oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Parkway North High School junior Charlotte Brod listens to oral arguments for a criminal appeal at the St. Louis County school.
Stephanie Hoeplinger, an assistant public defender based in St. Louis, speaks during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Stephanie Hopelinger, a St. Louis-based assistant public defender, speaks during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School.
Judge James Dowd, a judge for the Eastern District Court of Appeals, left, answers a question after oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Judge James Dowd, a judge for the Eastern District Court of Appeals, left, answers a question after oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County.
Students sit behind law clerks on bleachers during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Students sit behind law clerks on bleachers during oral arguments for a criminal appeal in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County.
Judge James Dowd, a judge for the Eastern District Court of Appeals, signs an autograph for Riley Gibbons, a junior, in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Judge James Dowd, a judge for the Eastern District Court of Appeals, signs an autograph for junior Riley Gibbons in a gymnasium on Wednesday at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County.
Riley Gibbons, a junior, right, talks with Evan Buchheim, an assistant attorney general, in a gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett.
Eric Lee
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Parkway North High School junior Riley Gibbons talks with Assistant Attorney General Evan Buchheim on Wednesday at Parkway North High School in St. Louis County. The court heard arguments for State of Missouri v. Dewey Austin Barnett at the school.

Original story:

Nearly 200 juniors and seniors at Parkway North High School will have a chance to see Missouri’s court system in action on Wednesday without leaving their building.

A panel of judges from the state’s Eastern District Court of Appeals will conduct oral arguments in a criminal appeal in the school’s gymnasium for students in Parkway North’s government and law and crime classes. There will be a question-and-answer session with the judges and attorneys afterward.

“I feel like we’re doing a public service with our job,” said Judge Kurt Odenwald, the chair of the Eastern District’s public information committee. “But now this is an extra opportunity to educate, and open up our whole system.”

Judge John Torbitzky will preside over Wednesday’s proceedings. Bringing oral arguments to different locations can help reduce the mystery that surrounds the court, he said.

“People see the legislature in action, or they'll read about it, or they'll see the executive branch doing its thing,” Torbitzky said. “People just don't see the courts. They don't know what we do. They don't know how we make decisions.”

The process of choosing the location for remote arguments begins in the summer, when Odenwald sends a letter to every school district letting them know the options for outreach. From there, Odenwald and the court’s administrator will look to see when the court’s different divisions are scheduled to hear arguments, and coordinate on dates that work for the schools.

The judges also do career days and presentations.

“It's an opportunity for students to realize that yeah, we are the same, and this is something you might aspire to one day,” Odenwald said. “We’re not just these figures in black robes. We’re real people.”

The hearing on Wednesday will play out exactly like one held in the courtrooms in the Old Post Office downtown where the Eastern District is headquartered. But though court proceedings are always open to the public, the judges usually do not have 200 people watching them do their jobs.

Torbitzky said there is a bit of anticipation at first “because I really want to make sure that I’m presenting the best version of myself.”

But, he said, “Once you get in there, and you sit down, and we're gaveled in, you kind of get tunnel vision.”

Stephanie Hoeplinger, an assistant public defender based in St. Louis, agreed.

“Typically, when I argue, everything else disappears when I start,” she said. “I am usually locked in with the judges.”

Hoeplinger will be arguing Wednesday on behalf of a Jefferson County man who was convicted of a 2018 stabbing. She said the pressure is no different whether there are two people or 200 listening to her make her case.

“I’m speaking for my clients and that is a lot of pressure,” she said. “I want to do a very good job.”

Odenwald is not on Wednesday’s panel, but his nephew Karl, a social studies teacher at Parkway North, will be in the audience with some of his government students.

The hearings are a good way to connect the concepts he is teaching in class to real-world applications, Karl Odenwald said.

For example, for the first 27 days of class, he drills students on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Sixth Amendment governs the right to a fair trial, and the case that his students will be watching focuses partially on whether Hoeplinger’s client received a fair trial when he was allowed to represent himself.

Like his uncle, Karl Odenwald has also participated in these events multiple times, at Parkway and other schools. The response of the students is overwhelmingly positive, and it’s something he finds heartening.

“They're not talking about TikTok or Instagram, they're having a substantial conversation about something important, and it's cool to see them get excited about that,” he said.

In addition to the docket at Parkway North, judges from the Eastern District will also hold hearings at Warrenton High School and St. Louis University School of Law. Their counterparts in the Western District plan off-site hearings at William Woods University in Fulton and the law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Eric Lee is a photojournalist at St. Louis Public Radio.