On May 13, 2013, students earning legal studies degrees from Minnesota School of Business-Rochester had class in St. Paul, Minn. A couple classes of criminal justice and paralegal students took a field trip to visit the Minnesota Supreme Court and Minnesota State Capitol. As fun as field trips can be, this one packed a lot of learning into one day to give students added knowledge in their fields of study. Megan Krenzer, paralegal chair, describes the eventful day in detail:
Rising early, students met on campus at 6:30 a.m. to embark on the 73-mile journey to listen to proceedings at the Minnesota Supreme Court. Let’s just say that the organizers did their research with planning this trip. With great directions and scheduling enough time, our two cars quickly parked and students and staff anxiously went to the third floor of the Judicial Center in St. Paul.
Karissa Wingert, a criminal justice student, said, “From the start of hearing about this field trip, I was excited. A chance to see the Minnesota Supreme Court was one that I was not going to miss!”
Laura Wassman, a paralegal student, stated, “It being my first time ever in a courtroom, I was excited to see what really happens during a Supreme Court hearing.”
Class is in Session
The first hearing on the Supreme Court’s agenda for the day was State v. Melchert – Dinkel. Before the field trip, students read and discussed the constitutional issues brought forth at the Court of Appeals for State v. Melchert – Dinkel. The main issue is whether Minnesota statute 609.215 restricts Melchert-Dinkel’s first amendment right to freedom of speech. Specifically, the statute states, “Whoever intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another in taking the other’s own life may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 15 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $30,000, or both.”
Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney states the statute is too vague to restrict online conversations supporting suicide with individuals contemplating suicide. The State argued the online conversations clearly advised and encouraged two people to take their lives. After the hearing, students reflected and made conclusions about the case.
“I learned that the first amendment, and particularly the the freedom of speech, is a very tricky issue,” explained Wingert. “Not only is the issue of whether or not this man told others to commit suicide, but also if he had a right to give the victims information. The Supreme Court has a difficult decision because if they ruled incorrectly, the freedom of speech to citizens of Minnesota could be decreased greatly.”
Desiree Schlicher, a paralegal student, also reflected, “Freedom of speech can be interpreted many ways, but I do not believe our forefathers meant for it to do harm. Hopefully, they will affirm the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision and find the statute did not violate his constitutional rights.”
“I felt the definition of the word ‘advises’ really captivated the Justices,” added Tanya Loker, paralegal student. “They relied heavily on the meaning of the word to see if Melchert-Dinkel had advised these people to commit suicide, thus trying to decide if and how the first amendment pertained to his case.”
The second hearing on the Supreme Court’s agenda was In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Lori Mae Michael. In order to better understand this hearing, students also learn about the Rules of Professional Conduct in every legal class, so it was a unique experience to listen to a disciplinary action brought by the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.
Loker stated, “I found this case to be particularly interesting as I had Ethics in the Law Office last quarter and enrolled in Family Law this quarter. For both classes, I researched and wrote a summary of a disciplinary action for an attorney.”
Amanda Antognini, another paralegal student, said, “It was very interesting to see a lawyer defend himself. How an attorney represents himself shows how the attorney would represent their clients.”
After the Supreme Court, the class went to the Minnesota State Capitol. On this day, the Minnesota Senate decided whether to approve the law allowing same-sex marriage. Protestors and supporters lined up along the steps of the capitol with signs while others voiced their opinions on the lawn.
“I was so excited to be in St. Paul on this day and witness history in the making!” Wassman said. “I was happy to see so many people outside of the Capitol, stating their opinions and showing that they care in the matter.”
Loker agreed, “I am always wowed by the Capitol to begin with, but seeing so many people support what they believe in was incredible.”
The Senate approved the same-sex marriage law and Minnesota is the 12th state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriage.
The field trip ended with the group stopping in Cannon Falls for lunch. Not only were students hungry for food, but they also had an appetite to reflect on their learning experience with each other.
Please contact Megan Krenzer, the paralegal program chair, to learn about free events in the legal community for current and prospective students. Megan can be reached at 507-535-8044 or email@example.com.