UConn Law students had a unique opportunity to see the federal court system in action when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals convened a regular day session in the William F. Starr Hall Reading Room on January 27. At the two-and-one-half-hour session, a three-judge panel, comprised of the Honorable José A. Cabranes, the Honorable Susan L. Carney and the Honorable Christopher F. Droney ’79, heard oral arguments in five cases, including two from the U.S. District Court in Connecticut – one involving a jurisdictional dispute in an age discrimination complaint filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and another dealing with a hostile work environment, disparate treatment and wrongful termination claim against Bridgeport Hospital.
Prior to the call to order, Wesley Horton ’70, who is widely recognized as one of Connecticut’s leading appellate attorneys, gave an informative presentation to a packed house of students and guests on “what to watch for” during the oral arguments made by attorneys for the appellants and the appellees. “Watch to see if a lawyer is going with the flow instead of sticking with the planned argument, especially when a judge seems to be going in another direction,” said Horton, a partner at Horton, Shields & Knox in Hartford. “It is also important to watch an attorney’s time management skills. Does the lawyer recognize that he is getting nowhere on issue number one and goes to issue number two, or does the lawyer spend too much time on one issue?”
“The first 30 seconds of oral argument are crucial for the appellant.” Wesley Horton ’70
Horton, who regularly teaches an appellate advocacy course at the Law School, also advised students to watch how the attorneys react to “cream-puff” questions, which he explained were “friendly” questions a judge might pose to “send a signal” that an attorney is making a weak argument. “And one last thing,” added Horton, one of only ten UConn Law graduates to receive the Alumni Association’s Medal of Excellence. “Quit while you are ahead. Watch to see if an attorney’s reply argument makes things better or worse.”
At the conclusion of the five-case docket, the members of the Connecticut Moot Court Board hosted a question-and-answer session, where fellow students had the opportunity to review the highlights of the court session with Horton, with a focus on the “what to watch for” tips he shared at the start of the day. When asked by a student to share his reaction to a joke told by one of the attorneys during oral argument, Horton (only half-jokingly) said, “The rule is that only judges make jokes.”
FACT: The Hon. Christopher F. Droney ’79, who was instrumental in arranging for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments at the Law School, is one of two UConn Law graduates to sit on the Second Circuit bench. The other is the late Thomas J. Meskill, Connecticut’s 82nd governor and a judge on the Second Circuit from 1975 to 1993, when he assumed senior status after two years as chief judge.