Real ‘Law & Order’ Gives Insight to UMass Boston Students Pursuing Law Enforcement, Legal Careers

Colleen Locke | October 28, 2013
The Massachusetts Appeals Court was in session October 18 in UMass Boston’s Campus Center Ballroom.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court was in session October 18 in UMass Boston’s Campus Center Ballroom.
Image by: Harry Brett

I think this is really an opportunity for students to decide if this is something they want to do.

Massachusetts Appeals Court Returns to UMass Boston Campus

Helena Iftica wants to work for the Boston Police Department some day – maybe as a detective. Before she can do that, the junior criminal justice major from Boston wants to get more familiar with the court system.

That’s why she came to see the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which was in session October 18 in UMass Boston’s Campus Center Ballroom. The appeals court holds about a half dozen sessions outside of John Adams Courthouse in Boston each year, which the justices affectionately refer to as “road shows.”

This is the second year the Appeals Court has visited UMass Boston. Denise Kenneally ’77, a senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Appeals Court, said one of the reasons she suggested UMass Boston host the court is because she didn’t have that opportunity as an undergrad.

“The first time I sat on an appellate case, I was not just a college graduate, I was a law school graduate. I hadn't seen anything remotely like it until I started work in a law firm. I think this is really an opportunity for students to decide if this is something they want to do, if this is something interesting to them,” Kenneally said.

In his opening remarks to the gathered students, faculty members, and community members, UMass Boston alumnus, UMass trustee, and attorney Richard Campbell ’70 also talked about the importance of this opportunity for students like Iftica.

“There's no more important thing than to stand in front of a court and advocate on behalf of a client. Our court system is the cornerstone of our democracy, and some of you are going to see it unfold,” Campbell said.

Associate Justice Cynthia Cohen was the presiding justice for the three criminal and three civil cases. As Cohen explained to the audience, the role of the three justices wasn’t to determine innocence or guilt, but to determine if a legal error had been made in the lower courts.

In each case, an appellant petitioned the justices to reverse a decision handed down by a lower court. In one case, the appellant’s attorney argued that before her client was convicted on an assault charge, the judge should have given a “missing witness” instruction to the jury. The victim, although called as a witness by the prosecution, did not appear in court. The appellant’s attorney said the victim could have provided testimony that the responding officer could not because he arrived after the fight between the defendant and the victim began.

After the session, students were invited to a networking lunch with the justices. Sophomore political science major and student trustee Nolan O’Brien called the criminal cases “intense”; freshman political science major Kendra Ford called them “engaging.”

“The arguments that they were making were well thought out and well-delivered. It was clear that there were some holes in both sides, and the justices were very on point in targeting those holes and trying to accurately decipher what the true story was,” Ford said.

Ford also noticed the interaction between the attorneys and the justices.

“That's what we really hope will happen—that we have a conversation with the attorneys,” Cohen said. “It's very unlike what you see on TV on Law & Order when the lawyers are addressing the jury. It's a different skillset to do a good appellate argument.”

The panel will now decide who will write up their decision for each case—each justice will write two of the October 18 decisions. 

The Office of Community Partnerships, which worked with Alumni Relations to bring the justices to campus, hopes the court will return in 2015.

About UMass Boston
Recognized for its innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s ten colleges and graduate schools serve 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

Tags: alumni , community , community partnerships , criminal justice , massachusetts appeals court , ocp , political science

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