Wheelin’, Dealin’, and Appealin’

Sophie Burke, Contributing Reporter

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     As the bailiff explained the decorum that was to be followed for the afternoon, he asked the Appeals on Wheels audience to stand – filling the silent room with a thunderous sound as the seats of their chairs folded up. The Arkansas Supreme Court justices made their way to their places on the Arkansas Hall stage, and the room was silent once again as the audience sat down once more. Chief Justice John Dan Kemp gave a short introduction to what was about to happen onstage, and the oral argument for Jarell Davis Terry v. State of Arkansas began at 10 a.m. on October 24.

First to argue their case was Terry’s attorney, Tim Cullen. Justices argued with Cullen on the details of the appellant’s argument, and Cullen argued right back. It was more civil than the courtroom scenes on television, but still fast-paced nonetheless. After Cullen came Assistant Attorney General Adam Jackson, arguing on behalf of the State. Jackson claimed that one of the arguments made by Cullen was not valid because the record proved him wrong. The notes that Cullen had claimed broke jury conduct rules were in fact in the record, as Jackson argued, but who delivered the notes was not in the record. Justice Josephine Hart recognized this and said a statement that stuck with the crowd and filled the silent auditorium with gasps and laughter. 

“Who delivered the note back to the courtroom?” asked Justice Hart. “I guess a little gerbil carried it back in there.”

    Although it was quite the serious case (murder and aggravated robbery are just two charges Terry was arrested for), the feeling in the room became a bit warmer. Justice Shawn Womack even asked Jackson if the bailiff he spoke of was a gerbil or a man a few minutes later. While talking to the small group of audience members assigned to him after the trial, Justice Womack explained that sometimes the court has some lighter moments, but it’s not the usual tone of oral arguments. 

Usually held in Little Rock, Womack also noted that not many everyday citizens generally attend oral arguments, even though they are technically open to the public. That’s why Appeals on Wheels was formed – to provide people with insight on how the state’s judicial system functions. Bringing real cases to colleges and high schools across the state gives people a greater chance of seeing and interacting with the Arkansas Supreme Court. It’s something that Womack, who previously served as a senator, enjoys. 

     “Generally, there aren’t many members of the public (in the courtroom),” Justice Womack said. “It’s great when we get to come out here and interact with people.” 

Although no decision will be made for at least three weeks, Appeals on Wheels left audience members with plenty of knowledge about the Arkansas Supreme Court. Justices Karen Baker, Courtney Hudson, Rhonda Wood, and Robin Wynne participated alongside Justices Womack and Hart and Chief Justice Kemp in the oral argument, trying to come to the decision of whether the appellant should be re-tried or not. The court will be in session until Oct. 31, so be on the lookout for the Court’s decision. The Fall 2019 session of Appeals on Wheels will also be put online on the Court’s official website, arcourts.gov, for those who did not attend but would still like to experience the oral argument that took place.