Appeals court to hear local cases

The traveling docket aims to educate the public about the appeals process.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:14 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Three judges from the Missouri Court of Appeals are in Columbia today to hear oral arguments in four cases that originated in Boone County.

Court clerk Terence Lord said the traveling docket is part of an effort by the court, which usually convenes in Kansas City, to educate the public on the appeals process. Lord said the judges also recognize that Kansas City is not always convenient for lawyers and petitioners from elsewhere in the state.

“We bring the court to them,” Lord said. “It’s a long way for a lot of people to come.”

Defining cases

The first case on the court’s docket is McGuire v. S&S Seed Farms. Susan McGuire was injured in a traffic accident in Columbia. A jury awarded McGuire $45,000, but she appealed the decision, claiming that certain witness testimony should not have been allowed.

The witness, a doctor, testified that McGuire suffered from somatoform disorder, in which a patient experiences physical symptoms of an illness or injury even though a doctor can find no medical cause. McGuire’s attorney, William D. Rotts, will argue that the testimony was based on insufficient evidence and was an attempt to weaken McGuire’s credibility.

After hearing from both parties, the judges will decide whether the trial court erred in allowing the testimony. It will then either uphold the jury’s verdict or order a new trial.

In Missouri v. Sims, attorneys for the appellant — Carlos Antoine Sims of Columbia — will argue that he should not have been forced to forfeit $13,000 in cash, a pistol, some marijuana and small amounts of crack and powder cocaine after a search of Sim’s residence earlier this year. According to a brief description of the case provided by the appellate court, Sims’ case is a procedural dispute about whether the forfeiture action was filed with a lower court in a timely fashion.

The appeals judges will also hear a 2002 case from Boone County in which a judge changed the child-custody arrangement between Timothy Timmerman and his ex-wife, Dianne Bernhard. Timmerman, the appellant, will argue that the changes were based on insufficient evidence and have resulted in his spending less time with his daughter.

The fourth case, Missouri v. Burrell, is being brought before the court by Brandy Burrell of Cameron. Burrell’s 2-year-old boy was killed, and the child’s father was convicted of the murder. Burrell was sentenced to life in prison on charges of second-degree murder and child endangerment. According to court documents, Burrell was previously ordered not to associate with her son’s father. Burrell’s attorneys will argue that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knowingly created the risk to her son by leaving him with his father.

Appearing before an audience

Between arguments in the four cases, the judges — Joseph Ellis, Harold Lowenstein and Robert Ulrich — will explain the appellate court system and the day’s proceedings to an audience that will include students from West Junior High School and Rock Bridge High School.

“This is a great opportunity for the students to witness firsthand what goes on in a courtroom,” said Dan Ware, Rock Bridge High School mock trial coach.

“This is the ultimate ‘job shadow’ experience for those students interested in the judicial system,” he said. “It is also a chance for them to learn about a different part of the court system they may not be familiar with.”

Community education seems to be a driving force behind the traveling court, which for the last 12 years has visited various venues within its 45-county jurisdiction. The court met in Fulton on Tuesday, and Lord said the judges are scheduled to visit the MU Law School next spring in a continuing effort to give people outside of Kansas City a better understanding of their role in the state’s judicial system.

“People hear a lot about trial courts and see them on TV,” Lord said, “but a lot of people have no idea what appellate courts do.”

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