It’s a beautiful courtroom.
My steps took me past the marshal and down the gallery’s center aisle, flanked on either side by rows and rows of wooden benches.
Up ahead was the bar, and just beyond, the lectern and tables for counsel. The prosecutor, due to arrive at any moment, would sit at the table to my left. I moved to the one on my right.
In just a few minutes, the three judges who would hear the arguments—and ultimately decide our appeal—would enter and take their place on the dais. They would sit in the middle, with the swallowtail Ohio Burgee on the right, and the Stars and Stripes on the left. Above them on the wall gleamed the beautiful gold, mahogany, and obsidian seal of the state’s Twelfth District Court of Appeals.
A side door opened, and a clerk entered, carrying three large binders.
HSLDA’s local counsel had informed me beforehand that this court prided itself in being prepared for arguments. As each binder dropped into place with a quiet thud, I knew he was right.
My own binders of notes lay before me. I’d spent the previous three weeks poring over them—making a small tweak here, jotting down a short note there.
I was hoping that when the argument began, muscle memory would take over and I wouldn’t need them.
In a moment, we’d all know . . .
The trial begins
We rose as the judges filed in, taking their seats on the dais. The presiding judge called out, “Case number 2016-11-094, State of Ohio v. Valerie Bradley.”
I was impressed by the stunning acoustics in the room. Each word seemed to hang in the air for a moment, then ping off the walls in marvelous tones.
I rose and took my place behind the lectern, as I’d practiced many times before. Only this time, it wasn’t practice. I took a deep breath and began.
“Judge Powell, Judge Ringland, Judge Piper, and may it please the court. My name is Peter Kamakawiwoole, and along with my co-counsel, Joseph Cesta, I represent Mrs. Valerie Bradley.”
Our argument was simple. The case had been brought before two courts previously, and both of those judges had bought the state’s narrative: that Mrs. Bradley’s son had been technically absent from school for 44 days, and that the State of Ohio had a “deadline” for homeschool paperwork that Mrs. Bradley had missed. If we were going to win our appeal today, I had to persuade at least two of the three judges on the dais to reject the state’s narrative and embrace the facts.
“This isn’t your garden-variety truancy case. Mrs. Bradley’s son, J.B., didn’t miss a single day of instruction, and the instruction he received was exceptional. This isn’t a case about a child whose education was at risk. It’s a criminal prosecution over paperwork.”
I glanced around, expecting at any moment to be stopped.
Judges can interrupt an attorney at any point during an argument to ask any question they feel is important to the case. Our local counsel had told us that Ohio’s Twelfth District Court of Appeals was a “hot” bench— meaning their questions came early and often.
And shortly, they would be. But for the moment, they let me continue:
“There’s an old Latin maxim that comes to mind: de minimis non curat lex. ‘The law does not concern itself with trifles.’ Yet in this prosecution, the state appears to have lost sight of that maxim.”
As I laid out the points I wanted to cover, the judges on the bench sprang to life, peppering me with thoughtful and probing questions. But by now, nerves had given way to adrenaline.
Each question presented an opportunity: to clarify a position, to correct a misunderstanding, to reassert a neglected fact, to expose a weakness in the state’s case, and above all, to bring Valerie’s innocence to the fore.
As the questioning continued, I was greatly aided by the simplicity and straightforwardness of Valerie’s case. The lower courts convicted Mrs. Bradley because they determined she had missed a deadline. But Ohio doesn’t have a “deadline” for paperwork. True, this district “requested” that paperwork be submitted by August 1 every year, but refusing a request isn’t a crime.
And even if a crime had been committed, Ohio law is very clear as to when and how that crime can be charged. The state ignored those detailed instructions.
As each question came, I tried to both answer it and redirect the court’s attention to these core principles.
From the questions the prosecutor received, it seemed the court took note of those principles.
Justice for Valerie!
Two weeks later, the Court of Appeals overturned Valerie’s conviction. In a unanimous decision, the court said that the school district had failed to follow Ohio’s truancy statute when it prosecuted Valerie, as HSLDA had argued all along. The court also said that Valerie’s prosecution had deprived her of important rights and legal defenses, and that she could not be legally convicted if she had been stripped of those rights.
I want to extend a special thank-you to our members and donors who have supported our litigation work. We’ve spent more than a year trying to get Valerie’s conviction overturned, and that effort—not to mention the more than $10,000 it’s taken thus far to cover the costs and expenses of litigation—is only possible because you stand with us for homeschooling freedom.