Neighboring court offers some lessons in justice

One reason why so many people are frustrated with government officials these days is that they do not understand the complexity of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, we suspect.

Recently, though, the Supreme Court justices of our neighbor, West Virginia, took up the idea of trying to educate young people on that.

Good for them!

Courtroom dramas on television — along with some so-called “reality shows” — provide a terribly misleading picture of how justice is administered. From start to finish, trials and appeals are disposed of in less than an hour. Lower-court and appeals judges seem to have wide latitude in making decisions.

As state high court justices understand, it doesn’t work that way in real life. No matter what their personal preferences are and regardless of public opinion, they have to measure their decisions against the state constitution and the statute books.

For several years, West Virginia Supreme Court justices and their staffs have been taking their show on the road throughout that state. They have held sessions of the court occasionally in cities other than state capital Charleston.

This week, they were in Wheeling, at West Virginia Independence Hall. There, they heard arguments in two cases, one criminal and one civil, as students from three local high schools watched and listened. Local attorneys helped the teenagers understand the proceedings.

One justice illustrated the disconnect between how many people think the courts should operate and how they really do by telling us of a session held in another county. There, arguments in a murder case were heard.

Students agreed the court should rule one way, but justices did the opposite. That was a lesson to the young people about the rule of law.

It is not uncommon for some in the public to view programs such as the court’s as “dog and pony shows” with little real substance. That is not the case with the high court’s initiative. By educating students on how justice really is administered, they reinforced faith in the system.

In case you hadn’t noticed, that is a quality in short supply these days.