Learning Experience: State Supreme Court in Fresno

FRESNO, California

The students spent Monday afternoon listening to oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, including a case challenging the evidence that led to a death penalty against a defendant in southern California.

It's a rare opportunity for teenagers to see the high court in action. Even more unusual is the chance to speak to the Chief Justice, Ronald George, but the judge held court for ten students from Bullard High School. Their intimidating assignment: asking questions during a 15-minute press conference.

"It wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be," said senior Madison Jones. "I thought he'd be harsher or not as talkative, but he made it more comfortable for us."

Action News reporter Corin Hoggard mentored Jones as she prepared for the press conference and an article in the Bullard Charger.

One of the main elements of her story will be the death penalty and she dug deeper into the chief justice's beliefs.

"You've called this state's death penalty system 'dysfunctional,' she said. "Can you elaborate on that please?"

"The reason that I think it is dysfunctional is because it takes on average between 20 and 25 years to carry out a judgment," he said. "I think it's unfair to people who are family members of crime victims for them not to have finality."

George was once quoted in the New York Times saying, "The leading cause of death on death row is old age."

The Chief Justice impressed Jones with a willingness to break from his Republican politics -- like when he wrote the majority opinion as the court ruled in favor of same sex marriage. But it was the students from Bullard who made the final impression -- on the Chief Justice himself.

"You've had very good questions," he said. "I thought they were very stimulating."

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