Missouri Court of Appeals travels to Boone County

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 | 12:24 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Three judges from the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals will come to town on Wednesday to hear five cases — two of them originating in Boone County.

Judges Victor C. Howard, Joseph M. Ellis and Alok Ahuja will hear arguments at the Boone County Courthouse starting at 1:15 p.m. to give local citizens a better understanding of the appellate process, Clerk of Court Terence Lord said.

The court usually convenes in Kansas City, but for the past 17 years, judges have been traveling to various cities across northwest and central Missouri, Lord said.

"It's kind of a long-standing tradition in our court," Lord said of the custom. "We're regulars in Columbia."

The proceedings will be just like a regular session of court except that judges will take periodic breaks from hearing arguments to explain to spectators how appeals courts work.

During a regular trial, evidence and witness testimony is put before a judge or jury, and a decision is made. If the losing party files an appeal, the case is brought before the appeals court where a new judge reviews the prior decision for errors in law by looking over documents, transcripts and written legal arguments. Only the lawyers for each party address the court. The appeal court's decision is final, unless they pass it up to the Supreme Court.

Lord said he expects a good turnout on Wednesday. Students from West Junior High School, Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools and MU School of Law were extended a special invitation.

The judges and the cases to be heard are chosen at random, Lord said, though a higher emphasis is placed on cases with a local interest.

Two of the five cases on the docket for Wednesday come from Boone County:

  • A suit against Shelter Mutual Insurance, brought by a representative for Jean Griffin, who lived at Lenoir Health Care Center in Columbia before her death in February 2005. The suit alleges that Shelter Mutual Insurance unfairly stopped paying Griffin's insurance claims after amending its eligibility rules. In March, a Boone County Circuit Court judge found in favor of the insurance company. The appeal says the insurance company cannot make an informal amendment to its plan without the approval of its board of directors.
  • A custody and maternal rights dispute involving two children born to a lesbian couple. The couple, Leslea Diane White and Elizabeth Michelle (White) Crowe separated in November 2005 after each woman gave birth to a child through artificial insemination. In January 2007, White filed a petition for a declaration of maternity, an order of custody and an order of child support. After several hearings, the case was dismissed. White appealed the decision saying, among other things, that the dismissal meant she was not able to demonstrate her parent-child relationship.

The court will try to rule on the appeals within 60 days, Lord said.

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