Hundreds of Clatsop County’s high school students ended up in court Wednesday.

The Oregon Supreme Court, the highest level of state law, adjudicated two cases Wednesday at Astoria High School’s auditorium. Hundreds of area high school and Tongue Point Job Corps Center students listened to the arguments in cases involving endangerment of minors and liability waivers.

“This is exactly the way it would be if you were to come to our courthouse … in Salem,” said Chief Justice Thomas Balmer. As part of an outreach effort, he said, justices have held hearings at high schools and colleges around the state for the last 10 to 15 years.

He sat facing the audience with the six other justices in full black robes. A small security detail formed a perimeter around the stage and at the entrance to the auditorium. They locked down the auditorium while court was in session.

The seven members of the Supreme Court are:

• Chief Justice Balmer, whom Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed to the court in 2001, was re-elected in 2002 and succeeded Paul DeMuniz as chief justice in 2012.

• Justice Jack Landau, who joined the court in 2011.

• Justice Richard Baldwin, who joined in January 2013.

• Justice David Brewer, who was elected to the court in May 2012 and joined in January 2013.

• Justice Rives Kistler, who joined the Oregon Supreme Court as an associate justice in August 2003.

• Justice Martha Lee Walters, who joined the Oregon Supreme Court as an associate justice in October 2006.

• Justice Virginia Linder, who joined the Supreme Court in January 2007.

Both cases they heard Wednesday were discretionary reviews of Oregon Court of Appeals decisions, one of the Supreme Court’s several jurisdictions.

Bagley vs. Mt. Bachelor

In 2006, 18-year-old Myles A. Bagley suffered permanent paralysis from the waist down. He was injured on a jump in the advanced terrain park at Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.

He sued the ski resort for $21.5 million in 2008. The Deschutes County Circuit Court dismissed his case, and the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. Both courts used the release Bagley and his parents signed as part of a season pass as justification.

On Wednesday, his lawyer Kathryn Clarke contended that Bagley’s injuries happened not because of the inherent risks of the sport, but because of defective design and construction of the jump. She requested the court invalidate Mt. Bachelor’s liability release, allowing Bagley to bring the issue of a defective jump to a jury trial.

“There are two issues,” said Clarke. “Whether enforcement of this release under these circumstances is inconsistent with the public policy articulated in the Skiing Activities statute; and whether the release cannot be enforced because it’s unconscionable.”

Justices probed Bagley’s claims for precedents in previous laws. They balanced the inherent risks of skiing and snowboarding – speed, angle, tricks being performed, weather and more – with the responsibilities of the resort operator to keep up grounds and equipment.

The Ski Activities law in the Oregon Revised Statues says skiers and passengers assume the “inherent risks of skiing.” Those inherent risks must be “reasonably obvious, expected and necessary.” They include collisions with other skiers or failure to ski within one’s ability.

“Like it or not, for those of us who love to ski and love to snowboard … it’s risky,” said Mt. Bachelor Inc. attorney Andrew Balyeat. He said that in the context of skiing, it’s reasonable to have a release agreement. That includes tabletops, moguls and other props at the ski park.

State law protects people at amusement parks and on ski lifts. But Bagley’s case could set new precedent for widely used release agreements.

Oregon v. Jackelin Gonzalez-Valenzuela

Gonzalez-Valenzuela was riding in the backseat of a borrowed car stopped for a traffic violation. Her 17-year-old daughter was driving, and her 5-year-old daughter sat in the front passenger seat.

Gonzalez-Valenzuela consented to a search of her purse, in which police found heroin, methadone and methamphetamine.

Washington County Circuit Court convicted her on two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor. The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

The Supreme Court Wednesday considered whether the phrase "unlawful activity involving controlled substances, " as used in a subsection of the statute defining the crime of endangering the welfare of a minor, includes the unlawful possession of controlled substances.

“The narrow issue on this appeal is whether that car, under those circumstances, qualifies as a place for unlawful activity involving controlled substances,” said Gonzalez-Valenzuela’s lawyer, David Sherbo-Huggins.

Under state statutes, a “person commits the crime of endangering the welfare of a minor if the person knowingly permits a person under 18 years of age to enter or remain in a place where unlawful activity involving controlled substances is maintained or conducted.”

The state’s attorney, Erin Galli, said there are five types of harm. In the case of Gonzalez-Valenzuela the children were exposed to neglect by their parent and potential exposure to drug-related activity that can negatively affect a child’s development, she said.

Learning opportunity

During the question-and-answer session, curious students wanted to ask questions about the cases, but the justices couldn’t speak about their deliberations.

One student asked what the hardest part about being a top justice was. “A lot of these cases are really close, when they get to this court particularly,” responded Justice Brewer, stressing the importance of not making things up or injecting personal opinion when adjudicating.

Two questions focused on the challenges facing women trying to reach the Supreme Court and how men feel about the ratio of men to women in courts.

“I think I was the very lucky beneficiary of a very strong generation of women,” said Justice Linder, referencing Betty Roberts, the first woman to serve on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Balmer added that Linder was the first woman to run for an open seat on the Supreme Court.

Another student asked how long deliberation usually takes. Justice Landau said the court takes an informal straw vote, followed by two to three months of research. Decisions, he said, usually come down within six months, but can take up to a year on controversial cases. They’re available online at http://tinyurl.com/oregoncourt.

Balmer said the justices meant to visit the Oregon Coast, and Astoria provided a centralized location for students from throughout the county to attend. Principal Lynn Jackson joked that AHS, five years older than the state of Oregon and its Supreme Court, was overdue for a visit as the court’s elder.

But Bend High School might get the last laugh. On Oct. 8, its students will hear the appeal to the Supreme Court by lawyers for Shannon and Dale Hickman.

The couple, part of an Oregon City faith-healing church, were convicted in September 2011 of second-degree manslaughter after failing to seek treatment for their prematurely born son.

      

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