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State Supreme Court Rides Circuit Into Baton Rouge

The phrase “riding circuit” may call up images of the Old West, but the current reality does not involve horses or clouds of dust.

“Will everyone please rise? Oyez, oyez, oyez. The honorable Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana is now in session.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court “rode circuit” Monday, hearing oral arguments on two cases at LSU Law Center. 

Chief Justice Bernette Johnson admits it was a bit more casual than their usual hearings.

“I think all of us treated this as a teaching moment,” she remarked.

Attorneys were asked to brief the audience on the cases in question, and the justices, particularly Justice John Weimer, frequently addressed the law students directly.

“A ‘JNOV’ means essentially that the judge is overruling the jury,” Justice Weimer explained, as the first case was being heard.

That case centered on a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict”— in Latin, judgment non obstante veredicto, or JNOV.

“This is the legal vehicle that allows the judge to overturn a bad jury verdict,” the plaintiff’s attorney argued, prompting Chief Justice Johnson to interrupt.

“Bad is probably, uh…you really mean inconsistent with the evidence?”

“Absolutely. Inconsistent,” the lawyer agreed.

The other case involved a district attorney allegedly making a deal  with a defendant to indict for manslaughter, then going back later and getting the grand jury to reindict for 2nd degree murder.

“We had writs of habeas corpus and speedy trial assertions being made by the defendant. We had to do something,” the assistant D.A. stated.

“If you make a deal, you have to abide by the deal. You can’t renege from that deal,” Justice Weimer admonished.

Chief Justice Johnson says this was valuable education for lawyers-to-be.

“I think it’s beneficial to have students actually see oral argument and listen to the questions and interaction. This gives them some idea about the process.”

Decisions in these cases are due in about six weeks.