For pre-law students, SHSU offers numerous pre-law classes, a legal studies minor, and many internship opportunities in law offices. The most popular of the law-related events, however, is the appearance of the 10th Court of Appeals every spring. This year, the 10th Court heard four cases on SHSU’s campus, inducing 800 plus students, staff, faculty, and local residents to tune in to cases concerning intoxicated manslaughter, wrongful death, aggravated assault, and capital murder.
The visit to SHSU was prompted by the three Justices on the 10th Court, Tom Gray, Rex Davis, and Al Scoggins, who contacted the Political Science Junior Fellows in 2012 about the possibility of trying cases in Huntsville. After initial explorations suggested that the logistics were manageable (thank you Ann Broussard, David Epps, Tim Mullings, Amanda Burris, Charles Henson, and Dean Vince Webb!), a partnership was born.
Almost four hundred people attended the first year, with visits by more than a dozen elected officials. This year, attendance was even greater, pushing the Kerper Courtroom to its capacity. Accordingly, the Junior Fellows resorted to live video, streaming the proceedings into classrooms, giving additional students and faculty the opportunity to watch the drama unfold live.
“This is a rare opportunity,” noted Justin Beiser, a 1L at Texas Tech Law and a Junior Fellow alum. “We do this now at Texas Tech, but we don’t get as many cases and no prefatory explanations are offered. It’s particularly impressive that SHSU does it, especially the way the Fellows and the Justices format it.”
The formatting is “lay-person friendly,” with attorneys permitted to turn and address the audience about the facts of the case in their opening remarks. Such background is not generally permitted in an Appeals hearing, which revolves around procedural or legal questions rather than the facts of the case. Such facts, however, permit the audience to make sense of the legal issues, which follow. In all the hearings last about fifty minutes, giving both defense and prosecution time to speak and the Justices time to ask questions.
“This isn’t something that most Universities do,” observed Pre-Law Advisor Mike Yawn. “We’re fortunate that the attorneys and Justices Scoggins, Davis, and Gray are willing to travel.”
According to Justice Gray, who graduated from SHSU in 1978, it’s all about the education. “We want as many people as possible to see the process. We are fortunate to have SHSU in our district…and [the University] has an incredible facility for both students and the general public to watch these proceedings.”
At times, too many people lined up to see the proceedings. For the final case, involving capital murder, the courtroom exceeded capacity, leaving students temporarily disappointed…
Fortunately, the Junior Fellows were able to find a makeshift overflow room, and the students were able to watch the livestream.
“It was good to see so many students interested. As Pre-Law advisor, you like to see students take opportunities. I’d like to thank those students who did, as well as Will Phillips, Arjenae Walker, Cody Williamson, Jake Rivera, Jessica Rodriguez, Brian King, and Coby Steele for assisting with the event; and Professors Tamara Waggener and Cassandra Atkin-Plunk for involving their students. Most of all, I’d like to thank the Justices for agreeing to this arrangement. It’s a win-win-win for the students, the University, and the community.”