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Attending a Hearing

On Friday, I attended a hearing at Hampshire Superior Court. It may be the first time I've attended a judicial hearing. I've seen them on television, of course: hearing the bailiff call "All rise!" is an iconic part of crime dramas. One thing I'd never heard before was that the lawyers referred to each other as "my brother". Maybe that's a Massachusetts thing. In any event, to see it in real life was an interesting cultural experience.

The hearing was about a lawsuit filed on behalf of two students arguing that the selection of the date of the preliminary election for Amherst Town Council disenfranchised them. The students themselves weren't there. Indeed there were no students in attendance. Several elderly women were there in support of their side, including one who periodically would say, "Mm-HMM!" when their lawyer made a point. Their lawyer was quite effective, in spite of the fact that he had little or nothing to work with: the Charter Commission reported that the preliminary election would be on same date as the statewide primary more than a year in advance. And the date was approved by the Charter Commission, the Select Board, Town Meeting, the State legislature, and signed by the Governor. If there was a problem with the date, students could have raised this issue at any of these previous points. To come in at the very end -- barely a month before the election -- to seek an injunction, seems pretty unreasonable.

When the lawyers for the Town were able to speak, they began their presentation, but the judge stopped them and asked them to address the last question raised by the other lawyer. This seemed to throw their presentation off track -- that was evidently one of the last points they were going to make -- and so their presentation was not as polished. But I think the Town is on solid ground with the election and I would be very surprised if the election were derailed now. Still, you never really know with the courts. Much of legal argumentation is about the applicability of previous cases and there are always a boat load of weird precedents.

UPDATE: Court finds for the Town of Amherst and the election will proceed.