Lawyers defend ficticious killer in WU’s practice court session

Editor’s Note: This article was published on Friday, January 6, 1959.

As the snow fell and the wind howled outside, a hardened criminal stood to hear the jury’s verdict. Would he be free or would he spend the rest of his life in jai? His lawyer had worked hard but would it be good enough to save his unworthy hide?

Actually this wasn’t the case at all. Court was being held by the practice court class of the Washburn Law School. The night was cold and the air was full of swirling snow as the court went into session.

Why have a class on a cold night? It was quite obvious that these young men didn’t like the idea of coming out in the cold. But how could they become polished lawyers, defending clients in actual court trials if they had no previous court training. It is for this reason that night court sessions are held in the district court of Topeka. This class is just one of the many necessary ones in the study of law.

What is actually done in a practice court session? The answer is not as simple as it sounds. All members of the class take part in a case sometime during the year. Each takes his turn as lawyer, defending “clients” in class ranging from murder to civil suits. Many hours of hard work in preparation are put into a case before it is time to be heard.

The fictitious case in question involved the accidental killing of Charlie Green, a student at Washburn. He was killed as a rotten tree on the farm of Frank Farmer fell on the auto in which he, Green and a friend were riding. As a result, Charlie’s father, Dan Green, is suing Farmer. The charge – death due to negligence.

In the opening statement to the jury, the plaintiff’s lawyer charged that the death need never occur if the defendant had carried out his duties as a property owner and cared for his trees. They brought suit under Kansas’ Wrongful Death Act of 1949.

Lawyers for the plaintiff were Jerry Hougland and Don Simons. Frank Farmer, illustriously portrayed by Frank Gaines, was defended by Herb Rohleder and Tom Lorson. The presiding judge was Ed Curry, who is an Ass’t. County Attorney. He also lectures court at the Law School.

The defense immediately stated that on the day of the accident, May 11, 1958, Farmer had been in possession of the land only ten days. Therefore he could not have possibly inspected all the trees not h newly acquired 100 acres of land in ten days. And that on the day of the supposed warning by state troopers, Farmer was not even in possession of the land. If he had tried to care for the rotten tree, he would have been trespassing. 

Witnesses were called. After many testimonies, cross-examinations, and general confusion, the jury retired to the jury room and deliberated for nearly an hour on the technical aspects of the case.

Upon their return, Judge Curry read the decision. It was in favor of the defendant, Frank Farmer. But for the student lawyers, the case hadn’t ended. As part of their training they had to file a brief and an abstract. A brief is a general statement of the case and also the question of the case. The abstract is a record of the case. It is needed so that the next court which hears the case will have a general ida of the past case.