The Chester Courtroom: One family’s legacy will prepare students for real-world trials

1/29/2014  - 

When the Columbus Bar Association recently evaluated its facility needs, the organization ran into a quandary: what to do with its beautifully designed courtroom? 

“It was apparent that the courtroom, beautiful as it was, was rarely used as an actual courtroom,” said Jill Snitcher McQuain, CBA executive director. “And, when it was, it was used to film commercials, mock trials or mediations. We decided to convert the space to a more versatile meeting room.”

 Because Capital University Law School Dean Rich Simpson has been such a long-time friend of the CBA, McQuain shared her concerns about the courtroom. Weeks later, the CBA offered to donate the furnishings to Capital if the law school would pay for the costs of removal.

 That’s where John Chester stepped in. 

Chester, a 1989 CapLaw graduate, was presented with an opportunity to bring the CBA’s courtroom from the Columbus Bar Association’s offices to the law school. 

Chester jumped at the chance, viewing a contribution to save the CBA’s courtroom as a means of giving back to the legal profession and to his alma mater in a way that helps prepare future students for the courtroom. At the same time, his support recognizes the legacies of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, all of whom practiced law in Columbus – and who were all also named John Chester.

 “Having a resource like this will help students become familiar with being in a modern courtroom so they will be comfortable once they graduate and go into practice,” Chester said.

 Chester said that, in simple terms, this is his way of giving back to the law school that opened the doors to so many tremendous opportunities in his life.

 “Capital has helped me build a great career,” Chester said. “It’s been rewarding, financially and personally, as I hope it will be for the students who are there now.”

 A legal education also provided him the chance to work at the law firm with his father, much like his father worked with his own dad. Chester’s support of the law school also is a reflection of the kind of service he learned from his own father’s example.

 “My father was a mentor to many young attorneys, especially trial lawyers. My father was a supporter of Capital and also the Ohio State law school. I thought we should continue that tradition, and this seemed appropriate,” Chester said. “This is a simple way to honor them, to honor their legacy and do something really nice for Capital University Law School and its students.”

 In addition to courtroom fixtures such as the cherry jury box, judge’s bench, and witness stand, the Chester Courtroom will be equipped the same kinds of high tech projection equipment and other technologies used in modern courtrooms.

 Capital plans to wire the courtroom to mirror Franklin County courthouse technologies, such as high-tech presentation equipment. By exposing Capital students to these technologies, they will gain valuable trial presentation experience. That we be a bonus from CapLaw graduates when they enter real courtrooms.

 “When you graduate from Capital, you need to be ready to walk into a courtroom and you need to be familiar with how it feels, how to move around, and be comfortable speaking. You need to be able to look at a jury and speak to a witness at the same time,” Chester said. “It’s not about just being prepared. It’s about being comfortable in that environment. If you’re not comfortable, then you’re thinking about other things that your client’s case.”

 The Chester Courtroom is the second moot courtroom in the building at 303 East Broad Street. According to Dean Simpson, the first courtroom, named in honor of Shirley M. Nault, is heavily used. Having a second courtroom with state-of-the-art technology will allow the law school to offer students greater learning opportunities. It also may allow Capital to host more moot court competitions, as well as offer greater continuing education opportunities for practicing attorneys.

 “Much like John Chester benefited from the legacies of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, future generations of CapLaw graduates will benefit from this generous show of support,” Simpson said.

 For Chester, acknowledging his family’s legacy in the Columbus legal community was secondary to helping Capital’s students.

“For me it’s important that kids come out of law school and they’re prepared . And, of course, a rising tide lifts all boats. Helping Capital produce highly prepared graduates increases the value of my law school diploma. The story is: ‘Capital University Law School has done so much for me. Who wouldn’t want to give back?’ ”