Appeals Court Returns to UMass Boston, Giving Students Insight into Judicial Process

Colleen Locke | March 08, 2016
While in session at UMass Boston, a three-member judicial panel heard two criminal cases and three civil cases.

While in session at UMass Boston, a three-member judicial panel heard two criminal cases and three civil cases.
Image by: Harry Brett

It’s one thing to read about the appeals court in a textbook, and quite another thing of seeing what actually goes on.

The judicial system was at work on the UMass Boston campus Tuesday.

As part of its own educational mission, the Massachusetts Appeals Court holds about a half dozen sessions outside of the John Adams Courthouse in Boston each year. At UMass Boston, a three-member judicial panel heard two criminal cases and three civil cases ranging from a stop and frisk case to a dispute over the presence of affordable housing to a failed children’s book series. This is the third time in four years the court has visited campus.

UMass Boston criminal justice, sociology, and political science students had the opportunity to not only experience the judicial process without leaving campus, but to network with members of the court, their staff, and alumni, some of whom work for the court system.

As deputy special assistant clerk, Diane Hendershott ‘06 keeps the justices abreast of any changes, such as the fact that one of the criminal cases scheduled for Tuesday was going to have to be moved to another date. She’s also the one keeping everything on track during the session, starting the timer and making sure each side has up to 15 minutes to present their case.

Although Hendershott has been with the court all three times it has come to campus, this was Chief Court Officer Dana Smith’s first time. Smith earned his undergraduate degree in human services from UMass Boston in 2012, and his master’s degree in human services in 2014. His job is to make sure the audience is aware of all the rules (no recording devices, cell phones off), and to say those words we’ve all heard on television when the justices come into the courtroom -- “All rise.”

“It’s not a courtroom, so I have to make it a courtroom,” he said.

Johan Taborda, Kathy Morrissey, the three associate justices who presided at UMass Boston, and Denise Kenneally '77

Kathy Morrissey ’80 (second from left) is the coordinator of victim/witness services for the Attorney General’s Office. UMass Boston’s Office of Community Partnerships connected her with her current UMass Boston intern, junior political science major Johan Taborda (far left). For Morrissey, Tuesday presented both an educational opportunity and a networking opportunity. She brought Taborda with her and networked with other potential interns.

“I feel passionately that this is a great public university and the students deserve the benefit of public sector experience,” Morrissey said.

Tracy Reed, a PhD student in UMass Boston’s sociology program, found the civil cases just as fascinating as the criminal cases.

“What I liked best was hearing both sides argue and hearing the arguments that they made and anticipating what the other side was going to say to take down those arguments – just the back-and-forth and the logic behind it,” Reed said.

Reed and her classmates, who are doing an evaluation of the event as part of their classwork, met with the justices during the court recess. They also met with one of the defendants ahead of time, giving them additional insight into the judicial process.

“It’s one thing to read about the appeals court in a textbook or hear a teacher talk about it, and quite another thing to have the hands on-experience of seeing what actually goes on,” Assistant Professor of Sociology Heather Zaykowski said in her opening remarks.

After all of the cases were heard, the justices talked about their own backgrounds and answered questions about their preparation process and the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Associate Justice Gregory Massing talked about how every month justices are randomly paired with two other justices. Each three-judge panel hears about 18 cases, most of which are heard in sessions like the one held on Tuesday – the others are not argued orally. The justices are responsible for writing the decision on a third of their cases. If the ruling is to be published, then the entire court will weigh in.

One thing the justices didn’t discuss was their rulings – generally decisions are posted about 130 days after cases are heard. The rulings on the cases heard at UMass Boston will be posted here.

Denise Kenneally ’77, a senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Appeals Court, first helped bring the court to campus in 2012. The Office of Community Partnerships, which planned this year’s event, along with Alumni Relations and the Sociology Department, hopes this will continue as a bi-annual event.

“This is my favorite sitting,” said Associate Justice Mary Sullivan, a UMass Amherst alumna. “The students, the alumni – it’s the best.”

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit

Tags: alumni , criminal justice , ocp , office of community partnerships , sociology

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