Courtroom truth and justice depends on reliable testimony, tested by skilled cross-examination. When the witnesses don’t know the evidence rules and courtroom conventions, though, honest witnesses giving accurate accounts can look confused or (worse) dissembling. Justice is then undone, not done. WMU-Cooley has long supported programs that train testifying professionals in varying fields on those evidence rules and courtroom conventions, to ensure that courtrooms are places of justice rather than injustice.
The law school’s students and professors, with the help of visiting judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and other lawyer practitioners, have direct- and cross-examined family court caseworkers, social workers, police officers, and other social-service professionals in the law school’s trial courtrooms, while training them in the rules and critiquing their performances.
Most recently, Grand Rapids-campus students hosted 32 police academy cadets. Muskegon County District Court Judge Raymond Kostrzewa presided in the campus’s trial courtroom, while Chief Trial Attorney Matt Roberts and Public Defender Chad Catalino conducted the cadets’ direct and cross-examinations.
Law students sat second-chair and also served as jurors, while helping to guide and critique the cadets. Two law students Jon Paasch and Amol Huprikar, both of them experienced law enforcement officers, addressed the cadets, skillfully answering their many questions to great appreciation. Adjunct Professor Brett Gardner, a former chief assistant prosecutor, coordinated the event.
While the lawyer, law student, and judge participants share their abundant knowledge and expertise with the cadets, the main service that the programs provide may simply be acclimation to the often-intimidating courtroom environment. Courtrooms and the high stakes that their matters entail make people nervous. Nerves and other emotions undermine concentration, listening, memory, recall, narration, and other communication skills. Nervous witnesses do poor jobs of testifying.
WMU-Cooley values the public service and commitment of the professionals who participated.
Blog author Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy. He also teaches law classes on the Kalamazoo, Michigan campus of Western Michigan University.