Riverside—Presiding Justice Manuel A. Ramirez has announced that the Court of Appeal will conduct an innovative court-community program called “Outreach Plus” at Coachella Valley High School in Riverside County in cooperation with Principal Victor Uribe on Thursday, April 13, 2017. 

The justices of the Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, will conduct oral arguments in the auditorium and answer questions from students after. In addition, the justices will meet with student body leaders before oral argument and visit with students in their classrooms after to urge students to stay in school and to inform them about the legal system in general, the Court of Appeal in particular, and legal career paths. 

Oral argument in two criminal appeals will be held in the Coachella Valley High School Auditorium, with the first case beginning at approximately 9:15 a.m. and lasting about 30 minutes each. Oral arguments will be followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session conducted by the justices for the audience of students, faculty, and local officials. The public has been invited to attend the special oral argument proceedings. 

 The first oral argument is in the case of People v. Costella, in which the defendant was convicted of second degree murder and arson of “forest land,” which occurred when defendant burned the dead body and some of the nearby vegetation. On appeal, the only contested issue was whether the grass and small brush burned was forest land.

The second oral argument is in the case of People v. Ruiz, in which the defendant was convicted of four counts of assault with a deadly weapon based on an altercation between the drivers and passengers in two pickup trucks.  On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred (1) in admitting evidence that defendant acted intentionally based on his past gang-member experience and (2) in refusing to give a jury instruction on self-defense.

The Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, takes the appeals from the superior courts in Inyo, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties. From 1929 until 1999, the Court of Appeal heard oral argument in San Bernardino and since then has been located in Riverside. The court held oral argument on a number of occasions at Riverside County high schools between 2002 and 2005. Starting with Pacific High School in San Bernardino in January 2005, the appellate court justices have gone into classrooms to speak directly to students about their futures. The addition of classroom visits is why the program is called “Outreach Plus,” and the court has since presented the program at high schools throughout Riverside, San Bernardino, and Inyo Counties reaching an estimated 12,000 students. 

The People will be represented by Lynne G. McGinnis and Anthony Da Silva, Deputies Attorney General. Appointed counsel Christopher Nalls and Leonard J. Klaif will represent the appellants. Their participation in “Outreach Plus” by presenting the oral arguments and responding to student questions is critical to the success of the program and much appreciated.

The program was first presented at Coachella Valley High School in 2008, and this second visit resulted from the favorable response. The Court of Appeal originally developed the program in 2005 in response to the emphasis on court and community collaboration by then Chief Justice of California, Ronald M. George, which has continued under Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. The program has been hailed as a great success by school administrators, teachers and students, as well as by judges and attorneys.