by Myra Saturen; photos by Ian Shipman
February 26, 2013
"Please rise! Justices of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania!" court crier Robert Morrissey called out on February 26 at Lipkin Theatre, Northampton Community College (NCC).
For two days the theatre has been transformed into the Pennsylvania Superior Court, one of two intermediate appellate courts in the state. It is one of the few occasions in more than 100 years that a session is taking place outside of an actual courtroom.
The special session of argument court will continue at NCC on February 27. Judge Jack A. Panella is the presiding judge, with Cheryl Lynn Allen, and William H. Platt serving on the panel. As in a courtroom, Lipkin Theatre displayed the court's official seal and included judges' tables with neatly piled documents and well-stocked pencil holders. Attorneys argued their cases from appellates' and appellees' tables.
Before the court began hearing the appeals in 45 criminal and civil cases, an opening ceremony introduced this session's special theme, "Honoring Those Who Serve: A Tribute to Our Veterans." The 228th Brigade Support Battalion Color Guard presented colors and United States Army veteran, NCC student, and Band of Brothers President Brian Smith led the Pledge of Allegiance. NCC student Zahra Josie sang the National Anthem.
Panella described how he arrived at the idea of dedicating the session as a tribute to veterans. "In 2002, I visited Bosnia and Germany, and I saw the important sacrifices military service people and their families were making," he said. Panella also worked with Wounded Warriors, an organization that provides programs and services to severely injured service members during the time between active duty and transition to civilian life.
"We idolize multimillionaires," he said, "while not taking proper care of the people who are keeping us safe and free." He said that our military helps to keep our judiciary free and independent--that dictators' first targets are the press and the judiciary of a country where they have seized power.
Dr. Mark Erickson, president of Northampton Community College, also participated in the opening ceremonies, expressing pride that NCC is a "college of the community," the court session as an example of the interaction of both entities. He said that he is proud that the College serves many military veterans.
Three veterans of three different wars presented accounts of their varied experiences. Dennis F. Feeley, Esquire, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, spoke about four terms of duty aboard an aircraft carrier and a visit by Bob Hope and Barbara McNair on Christmas. He described what it was like returning home from an unpopular war: jeers and signs reading "baby killer" greeted him at the airport.
Enrolling at NCC, he found many other veterans and joined a veteran's club on campus. "We veterans found a sense of community," he said, adding that "For me, NCC was an instant love affair. Here I felt at home and at ease. NCC was a huge turning point. It helped me find my ground and bearing."
Judge Edward G. Smith, a captain in the U.S. Navy and a veteran of the War in Iraq, told a different story of his deployment and return home. His memories of his deployment are vivid. He recalled lugging 50 pounds of armor in 105 degree weather. He spoke about being marooned during a sandstorm in Baghdad, catching an overloaded plane to Kuwait City, and then finding that his tickets home had been erroneously canceled.
Smith's arrival at the airport contrasted with that of Dennis Feeley. Friends welcomed him. By then, times had changed. "The country knew the importance of recognizing the men and women who fight, even if they were opposed to a war or war in general," he said. About is experience, he said that it was a "humbling privilege to see young men and women putting their lives at risk to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people." Smith still serves in the Navy.
Rick Miller, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an NCC student, is a flight medic with the 82nd Airborne, caring for the wounded and airlifting injured soldiers to medical sites. He is presently serving with a National Reserve unit in Bethlehem.
His first year at NCC was stressful, he said. He had to adjust to the demands of college and the transformation to a stateside life. "The hardest adjustment of all was realizing that life had gone on without me," Miller said. He found support from his family and the Band of Brothers, which he joined. "The Band of Brothers helped me get out of my shell and make contact with other veterans," he said. He also credited his family and Diana Holva, NCC veteran's affairs assistant, with helping him make a solid transition to day-to-day life.
After the ceremony, the court began to dig into a mountain of cases before them, giving NCC students and interested members of the community a very rare chance to see the court in action.
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