From left: Robert Anbinder, Co-Chair, MSBA Public Awareness Committee; Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland; Adam Sean Cohen, Co-Chair, MSBA Public Awareness Committee; Edward Gilliss, MSBA President
Mark Scurti addresses students on the interpretation of marriage
“Judges must be allowed to interpret the law without interference,” offered Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, on the importance of Separation of Powers.
Bell’s remarks were directed toward the 132 students and 20 adults from around the state who had gathered at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center on May 15 in honor of Law Day. The program, “Separation of Powers - The Critical Role of an Independent Judiciary,” was sponsored by the MSBA Public Awareness Committee, in conjunction with the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP).
Bell stressed the importance of an impartial judicial system, saying, “Separation of powers is one topic that we need to contemplate from time to time. It is something we need to understand.”
After a welcoming by Adam Sean Cohen, who co-chairs the MSBA Public Awareness Committee with Robert Anbinder, MSBA President Edward J. Gilliss elaborated on the intention behind the day. “Separation of powers allows us to respect and protect the government,” said Gilliss, in his opening remarks.
Gilliss was followed by keynote speaker Bell. After his address, the students attended two special interest sessions.
Following lunch, the students attended an interactive session with Chief Judge Ben Clyburn, District Court of Maryland. His session, entitled, “It’s a Bomb,” discussed the process of a case through the judicial system.
“A strong judiciary is the cornerstone of a strong democracy,” noted Clyburn.
After “It’s a Bomb,” a closing plenary was held in a question-and-answer format, inviting questions from the crowd. The day concluded with a raffle, to reward the students for their participation throughout the day.
The 50-minute workshops were split into two sessions. University of Maryland School of Law Professor Abraham Dash and attorney Shannon McClellan presented in both sessions, while Judge Neil Axel, District Court of Maryland, Howard County, Judge Gerald Devlin (retired), and attorneys Mark Scurti and Adam Sean Cohen each taught at one session. The students were allowed to choose which workshop to attend.
Dash spoke on the history of the separation of powers, dealing specifically with Article 1 and Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution. McClellan gave an overview of the separation of powers, both on national and state systems. The students participated in an abbreviated moot court enactment, illustrating the checks and balances with the government. Scurti spoke on the current legal definition of marriage, which branch of government is to make that decision and how separation of powers is playing a role in the decision. Axel spoke on the role of the judiciary and how the judiciary resolves disputes between the state and an individual. Devlin focused on the cooperation between the branches, taking his experience of having served with all three branches. Cohen used an actual case to present the separation of powers in the view of an attorney.
During the question-and-answer session, Clyburn was joined by Axel, Dash, Cohen and Anbinder, who moderated.
The importance of separation of powers was also stressed among political lines.
“If the public doesn’t care, there would be no independent judiciary,” Dash noted during his session. “[The public] keeps the judiciary honest.”
“It is important that we have separation of powers, so judges and courts can have individual thinking,” said Bell. “Judges should make decisions undeterred, unafraid of what their decisions would mean [politically].”
The students went away from Law Day with a deeper understanding on what separation of powers means, as well as why we need it. They were given the ability to hear directly from the judiciary, as well as lawyers, how separation of powers affects the legal process.