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University of Iowa News Release


March 7, 2007

Photo (from left): Senior Judge David Hansen, Judge Michael Melloy and Judge William Riley of the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Click here for a high-resolution version of the image.

Court Of Appeals Hears Cases At UI Law School; Judges Meet With Students

Lawyers who argue before the United States Court of Appeals better know their stuff or their case doesn't have much of a chance, a panel of judges from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals told University of Iowa law students on Tuesday.

"Know the applicable law, and have a detailed knowledge of the record that was made by the court below. I have no patience for people who say they don't know," said Senior Judge David Hansen, one of three judges from the Eighth Circuit Court who heard oral arguments in two cases Tuesday at the Boyd Law Building. "Treat oral arguments as your opportunity to have a conversation with the court. Treat oral argument as an opportunity to educate me about the case and remove any doubt or problem I may have with your case."

While the court normally hears arguments in courtrooms at its headquarters in St. Louis or St. Paul, judges do occasionally hold session in law schools around the circuit to provide an opportunity to see the court for people who might otherwise not be able to. After arguments were completed Tuesday, Hansen, Judge Michael Melloy and Judge William Riley answered questions from law students, shining a light into a part of the U.S. judicial system that is a mystery to many.

Melloy, who has been on the appeals court for five years, told the students that attorneys should not be upset by questions the judges ask during oral argument, even though it might disrupt their prepared argument in the brief time they have to make it.

"We don't normally ask questions just to hear ourselves talk," Melloy said. "We deal with hundreds of cases and so we don't know the nuances of the trial or the facts of the case as well as the advocates who argued it. We rely on the briefs and the argument to reach our conclusion."

Riley explained to the students how the Eighth Circuit judges arrive at their opinions. Shortly after oral arguments are completed, the three judges on the panel have a short discussion of the case and stake out their preliminary positions (they never talk about cases beforehand, although he said judges in some other circuits do), and then one of the three is assigned to write the opinion. Drafts are circulated, revisions made after negotiations, and, if necessary, a dissenting or concurring opinion is written. He said the judges try to release their opinion within 90 days of oral arguments, but sometimes the volume of cases on the court's docket pushes that deadline back.

"When I was a lawyer arguing before the court of appeals, I thought that my case was the only one they were hearing and I couldn't figure out why it took so long," he said. "Now I know it has nothing do with the case. It's usually just the workload."

Following oral arguments, the judges met with students and faculty at a reception at Old Capitol and a dinner.

The Eighth Circuit includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas. The court hears appeals of decisions made in the federal courts in those states. There are 11 active judges on the court and seven senior judges.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,