Home Law School News Trial Practicum features vehicular homicide case

Trial Practicum features vehicular homicide case

First-year students at Drake University Law School are observing the trial of Andrea LaForge, a Clive resident who faces several criminal charges in connection with a 2007 rollover crash in which one person was killed.

LaForge, who lost control of her car on an exit ramp north of Des Moines at N.E. 14th Street and Interstate 80 in February 2007, is charged with motor vehicle-OWI, homicide by vehicle-reckless, and involuntary manslaughter. One of her passengers, Jamie Hill, was ejected from the vehicle and died from his injuries.

Approximately 150 students are watching the entire jury trial as part of Drake Law School’s 13th annual Trial Practicum, which began Monday and is expected to continue through Thursday.

In addition to the trial itself, the students observe special briefings with the attorneys trying the case on both sides, exclusive conversations with the judge and debriefings with jury members following the conclusion of the trial.

“The Trial Practicum is cutting-edge education,” said Russell Lovell, Drake Law School associate dean and professor of law. “Drake is the only law school in the country that cancels classes for up to a week so its first-year students can observe a jury trial from beginning to end

“The Trial Practicum is the laboratory that makes the first-year classroom, the book learning, come alive.”

The case of the State of Iowa v. Andrea LaForge, takes place in the courtroom of Drake’s Neal and Bea Smith Law Center, 2400 University Ave.

Chief District Judge Arthur Gamble is presiding. The prosecutors are David Porter, a Drake Law School graduate, and Steve Foritano, an adjunct professor at Drake Law School who coaches one of the Law School’s mock trial teams. Bobby Rehkemper, also a Drake Law School graduate, is defense counsel.

Students first attended a pre-trial hearing Monday morning and then watched the selection of the jury during the afternoon. Opening statements are scheduled for 9 a.m. today (Tuesday, Feb. 9).

The case has some interesting evidentiary issues. It has been to the Iowa Court of Appeals, which remanded the case for trial.

“This is going to be a great educational case,” Lovell said. “There are excellent attorneys, very contested facts and interesting legal issues.”

Coordinated by Lovell, the Trial Practicum gives students the unique opportunity to see a trial inside and out. It’s an element of Drake Law School’s curriculum that Lovell believes should be considered for inclusion in curriculum reforms at law schools nationwide.

The Drake Law School works with the state court system to screen more than 200 cases for potential observation during the trial practicum week.

More than 20 lawyers, judges and members of the law faculty, volunteering up to a week of their time, will observe the case and meet with students in small groups to discuss the testimony, the judge’s rulings and the lawyers’ strategies — all to give the future barristers a preview of their coming career.

The students will rotate between watching the trial live in Drake’s Smith Center courtroom and observing it on closed-circuit television from several conference rooms throughout the Smith Law Center. Discussion of the events in the courtroom, with special focus on jury selection, evidence, litigation practice, professionalism and procedure — as well as the criminal law involved in the case — will occur, including on-the-spot commentary by the faculty in the conference rooms.

“It is surprising to most non-lawyers to learn that, with the exception of Drake graduates, very few law school graduates have ever observed a complete trial — civil or criminal — at any point in their education,” Lovell said.

“Our students consistently tell us their observation of a jury trial in the Trial Practicum is a highlight of their first year, if not their entire law school experience, and that it goes a long way to making them better lawyers in the future.”

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