Ashley Reed, Director of Communications | Court of Appeals of Indiana
These are questions that are commonly asked when the Court of Appeals of Indiana goes on the road for oral argument with its Appeals on Wheels program. Appeals on Wheels is an exercise in civics education.
“The court believes it is important to educate the community about the judicial system and in particular what our court does. We know that it is difficult for them to come to us so we go to them,” said outgoing Chief Judge Nancy H. Vaidik.
Appeals on Wheels takes the court all over Indiana to help Hoosiers learn more about the judiciary’s indispensable role in Indiana government.
“People get to see what happens with the executive [branch] and the legislature, but really don’t get to see the judiciary,” said David Bolk, Legal Studies Instructor at Indiana State University. “[With Appeals on Wheels] people can see what the Court does and the work that it does and the importance of what it does.”
“Experiential learning is great. You can read everything in a book. You can hear someone lecture on it, but to actually see it provides a different opportunity to learn,” said Bolk.
The court has traveled to all 92 Indiana counties with Appeals on Wheels since the court’s 2001 centennial anniversary, although the program predates the centennial. This feat was accomplished on December 10, 2019, when the court traveled to Winamac Community High School.
Chief Judge Vaidik described the day as historic. These events are typically held at high schools, colleges, law schools, and in courtrooms, but they’ve also been held at community centers, tourist sites, and even an outdoor amphitheater.
“The Appeals on Wheels program provides a unique opportunity for high school students to observe a real [argument]. No other learning experience can compare to placing students in the room while two attorneys make their arguments to a panel of judges; it’s the perfect window into this all-important component in the American adversarial justice system,” said Adam Williamson, Social Studies Department Chair at Mississinewa High School.
The court recently held a traveling oral argument at the Indiana Historical Society for the Indianapolis Scientech Club. “Feedback from our membership has been most positive with many expressing how impressed they were with the judges and with the procedure,” said Attorney Steven Springer, Indianapolis Scientech Club member.
At the conclusion of oral arguments (which typically last 40 minutes), the judges hold a question-and-answer session with the audience. Audience members can ask questions on any topic except the case at hand, because code of conduct rules prevent judges from speaking about pending cases. The judges enjoy the opportunity to foster public trust by interacting with a broad range of citizens in a relatively informal setting.
“The most enjoyable part … is that it provides students the chance to interact with the judges and attorneys after the hearing concludes. I look forward to bringing the Appeals Court to our school each year,” said Williamson.
The court always extends an invitation to area legislators and local judges, who often attend these events. This strengthens the positive relationship between the judicial and legislative branches.
Local bar association members often also attend. Two free hours of continuing legal education credit are available to members who attend a one-hour CLE program in conjunction with an Appeals on Wheels oral argument.
In 2019, the court conducted 44 traveling oral arguments for the second year in a row. Traveling oral arguments are recorded and archived on the court’s website for viewing by the public.