Students of teacher and state representative Greg Clark's government class at Vergennes Union High School, had a rare opportunity to meet Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber. Reiber made a special visit to the school on Constitution Day and talked with students and faculty in the school's library.
Reiber's presentation on "We the People" started with students defining good and bad labels as they relate to judges-most thought fairness important while others thought activism good with others not in agreement.
"Judges have a high bar set for standards," Reiber said. "We must protect the rights of the minority over the majority and sometimes there are unpopular decisions."
Reiber stressed the need for judicial independence despite the robe tugging by politics, special interests and activists.
"Independent courts are vital to our state and nation," Reiber told students.
Reiber told a story about his first run-in with the legal system as a teenager in the 1960s. He was a passenger in an automobile operated by a friend. The friend was pulled over for speeding and the young Reiber was ordered to appear in court and testify.
"It was difficult for me," he said. "On the one hand the driver was my friend, but on the other hand I was sworn to tell the truth."
During the ordeal, Reiber felt the judge was biased because he was a friend of the teen driver's family. The experience made an indelible mark on Reiber and helped propel him into a legal career.
Reiber told students about a famous 1996 New York legal case in which a judge reversed himself in a high profile drug case.
"The judge had thrown out a videotaped confession," Reiber said. "He even excluded 75 pounds of cocaine from the evidence. Needless to say, this case sparked debate, outrage and classroom discussions."
Reiber said Vermont judges will be reaching out more to the public. The VUHS presentation was a trial run, so to speak, of a public program Reiber will be presenting to schools and community groups around the state.
"'We the People' starts with you and me," Reiber said.