Supreme Court justice lectures at courthouse

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The subject of the Law Day ceremony in the Blair County Courthouse Friday was “Why every vote matters.”

But, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin of Cumberland County, who attended the afternoon get-together of more than 100 attorneys, courthouse workers and students, wasn’t there to talk about elections he knew were decided by one vote, but instead about the rule of law, the constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania, and how participation through the vote reinforces the trust Americans have in their constitutions.

It is the vote and the trust that will carry the nation into the future, he said.

In delivering his talk, Eakin, who was invited to Blair County by attorney Ilissa Zimmerman, and who will speak today at the Agudath Achim Synagogue, 1306 17th St., stood before a jury box filled with Altoona Area High School students who have distinguished themselves by winning the Pennsylvania Mock Trial competition.

Those students will travel next week to Madison, Wis., to participate against 45 other mock trial teams, including one from South Korea, in hopes of winning an international Mock Trial title.

Eakin told the students they were leaders, that attorneys were leaders, and he urged their participation in the vote and the rule of law.

But Eakin cited two developments that demonstrate why it is important to vote and participate.

Citizens today are faced with an “onslaught of negative advertising. … The problem is negative ads work,” Eakin said.

A negative ad is when there is a focus by one candidate on what is “bad” about his opponent, it being much easier to focus on the bad of the other guy that “to say, ‘I’m good,'” Eakin explained.

“Most of the time,” he said, “the negative ad is misleading [because it doesn’t tell the full story].”

Related to the negative campaigning is the low turnout of voters. He said in one of his elections for the Supreme Court, only 16 percent of the voters in Philadelphia turned out, which, because he ran as a Republican, was good for his side, but his emphasis was how the voters ignored the judicial race.

“Judicial races are very important,” he said.

“I urge you,” he said to the students and others, “to respect diversity of opinion on every subject. … Give due respect to the other side. You don’t have to agree, but give respect.”

Then he added, “The fact we disagree does not excuse the fact we don’t participate.”

He said a ceremony like the one held Friday in Blair County is itself important because it provides time to reflect on the genius of the founding fathers who created a system in which the law – not guns and tyrants – prevails.

The students listening to Eakin were given an ovation as a send-off to the national mock trial competition after one team member, senior Rachael McIntosh, recited the closing argument in the case to be presented in Madison.

Just prior to the ceremony, McIntosh called the accomplishments of her high school team “amazing,” and she related how the team has trained hard for the upcoming finals.

Blair County attorney Dave Andrews is the attorney coaching the team. He said the seven students will be going to Madison early next week and will prepare there by “scrimmaging” teams from Arkansas, Maine, Texas and New Jersey.

The coordinator for Law Day this year was Altoona attorney Matthew P. Gieg.

Blair Judges Daniel J. Milliron, Timothy M. Sullivan, Elizabeth A. Doyle, Wade A. Kagarise and Hiram A. Carpenter attended the ceremonies.