Three of Connecticut's nine Appellate Court judges conducted business at Branford High School (BHS) on Oct. 18, and by their judgment, it was a great day.
More than 500 BHS students watched with interest and several lined up afterwards to question the session's four attorneys, including Assistant State District Attorney Melissa Streeto, BHS Class of 1990. The judges heard two actual cases on appeal in a courtroom set up on the BHS stage.
The students stuck to the court marshal's opening demand of "absolutely no talking, unless you're before the court." They sat quietly throughout the two-hour program, with just one barely audible crowd reaction as they heard Judge Herbert F. Gruendel describe extensive injuries suffered by an accident victim.
Gruendel brought up specifics after an attorney for the driver who caused the accident described the victim simply as a pedestrian who had been struck. The attorney was before the Appellate Court to dispute a trial court's intoxicated driving decision against his client, based on police blood test obtainment. A video clip of Gruendel's description of the victim's injuries, and a bit more from that hearing, can be viewed at www.zip06.com/branford.
A former Sliney school principal (prior to 1984), Gruendel is the father of BHS social studies teacher David Gruendel.
"This is really unique," David Gruendel told The Sound. "I've been exceptionally proud of his career, and of course the fact that he's on the Appellate Court. Actually, this is the first time I've ever seen him in a court room. To actually have him here in this school, and to see him with the students I'm teaching, is very cool."
During a welcome reception before the event, the judges were greeted by BHS Principal Lee Panagoulias, Jr., Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez, and First Selectman Anthony "Unk" DaRos.
Judge Richard A. Robinson, who had participated in the travel court program when it visited his alma mater, Stamford High School, told The Sound he was looking forward to hearing the cases with students looking on.
"This is a fantastic experience for everyone," said Robinson.
Judge Robert E. Beach, Jr., said the opportunity for students is unique.
"I think they get a different experience than what they would get in the classroom. This is real. What is viewed will be decided, and we will send the decision to the school so the students can learn the outcome with their teachers," Beach said.
The decisions are expected to be rendered within six to eight weeks.
"I think they learn the seriousness of our purpose and our desire to be as open as possible," added Judge Gruendel.
After the second hearing ended, Gruendel took a moment to point out to students that during her argument, Streeto truthfully answered a critical question he'd posed, while knowing "it didn't help her case.
"But she did what a lawyer must do; she told the truth. She demonstrated candor toward the tribunal and lawyers do that every day. We see it all the time; that's a part of their duty," Gruendel told the students.
He also praised the students for their exceptional interest and behavior.
"We really are grateful to have had the opportunity to come here, and you have been an extraordinary audience. I'm so impressed with the fact that you could sit here all this time and do so well; so thank you very much," he said.