09/25/09 — She has been in court for 52 years

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She has been in court for 52 years

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 25, 2009 1:46 PM

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Sue Schell thanks Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones for a plaque recognizing her as Wayne County's unofficial "courtoom observer."

In 52 years of Wayne County Superior Court trials, a few things could be counted on -- a defendant, charges and Sue Schell sitting in the courtroom.

Dubbed the "courtroom observer" years ago, Ms. Schell has rarely missed Wayne County's major trials.

Since 1957, she has watched defense attorneys and district attorneys alike, and she has her favorites.

Assistant District Attorney Terry Yeh is one of those chosen few. She watched last week as Judge Arnold Jones presented a gift to Ms. Schell.

"Oh, I just love her," Ms. Schell said of Mrs. Yeh, adding that she admires her bravado and skill at using a defense attorney's own arguments against them as she prosecutes.

The gift and ceremony came as an utter "shock," Ms. Schell said.

"I just never would have expected it," Ms. Schell said. "Never."

The judge called Ms. Schell to the front of the courtroom and presented her with the gift and a speech.

Bailiff Dan Calhoun had carved her a wooden box, and inside was a $50 gift certificate for any store in Berkeley Mall.

Jones said Ms. Schell's commitment to watching Wayne County's legal proceedings shows civic pride.

"Since Jan. 5, when I had the honor of becoming the Superior Court judge ... there's one person who has been in court as much as I have," Jones said.

"This is a very serious job, that I take very seriously every day," the judge said. "If only all of Wayne County's residents were as committed to our legal system as (Ms. Schell)."

In her years of courtroom observing, Ms. Schell said she has developed a keen eye for both lies and truth. She forms an opinion only after hearing both sides of an argument.

Although many of the trial topics have been unpleasant, Ms. Schell said watching court gives her an idea of what's happening in her community.

Part of her interest comes from her heritage.

"I'm from a law enforcement family, and that's part of the reason that I'm here," she said. "I'm just interested in what goes on around me, that's it."

Although she says she prefers the term "court observer," Ms. Schell and others said she's had many nicknames over the years -- "the court lady," "the court watcher," and others.

With every trial that she watches, Ms. Schell picks up something new about the legal system, police procedure or simply human nature.

"I learn something new every trial," she said.