On April 13th the LEAP Center hosted the 10th Court of Appeals, which came in from Waco to hear cases on SHSU’s campus. Like all Appeals courts, the 10th COA holds hearings that review the legal process of lower courts, assessing whether an actionable error occurred. Currently, the three Justices serving on the 10th Court of Appeals are Chief Justice Tom Gray, Justice Matt Johnson, and Justice Steven Smith. The Court heard three cases throughout the day, one at 10 am, 11 am, and another at 1:30 pm.
The LEAP Ambassadors gathered the large crowd outside of the Kerper Courtroom in the College of Criminal Justice building. Heather and Jessica handed Courtroom Etiquette Rules and case facts to students and other attendees of the 10th Court of Appeals session.
With 3 cases to hear, the court began around 10:00 a.m. with its first case! The turnout for the first case happened to be one of the largest crowds in recent years, with more than 100 students, faculty, and other audience members. The proceedings begin as all rise, and the Justices enter the room.
As always, Chief Justice Gray introduces elected officials in the crowd, including County Judge Pierce, Judge David Moorman, County Court at Law Judge Tracy Sorensen, and District Clerk elect Leslie Woolley. He also introduced the LEAP Ambassadors.
The first case involved a personal injury claim. The plaintiff sued Cowboy Up (a furniture shop) after her fall from the stairs of the shop which resulted in multiple injuries.
One of the features of this program is that the Justices allow the attorneys to turn to the audience and describe the facts of the case, which helps the lay audience follow along, somewhat, with the legalities.
Students, in particular, enjoyed the hearing of the first case and were left with many thoughts, reflections, and imponderables.
Once the first case wrapped up around 11 a.m., the judges remained in their places while the new audience found their seats. As the crowd settled down the hearing of the second case began.
Lasting about 60-70 minutes, the second case concerned the mask mandate enforced by Governor Greg Abbott. The legalities associated with this case were the most complex, and not all of the audience (including me!) followed along fully.
Nonetheless, the seriousness and importance of this case informed the audience of the role of the governor vis-a-vis local officials, while also highlighting the importance of jurisdictional issues.
After the conclusion of the second case, the three judges, elected officials, and the LEAP Ambassadors made their way to the Friel’s conference room for a brief lunch before the third case hearing and question sessions began.
During this time the LEAP Ambassadors spoke with Justice Gray, Justice Johnson and Justice Smith, Judge Sorensen, staff attorneys Rick Bradly and Jill Durbin, Court Clerk Nita Whitener, and District Clerk elect Leslie Woolley.
Discussions held at lunch ranged from the future career goals of the LEAP Ambassadors to the positions held by each judge present in the room, to conversations about which law schools are the best and of course the tasty cookies Linda McKenzie sent for our lunch since she could not attend.
Wrapping up our conversations and lunch, the LEAP Ambassadors and Judges made their way back into the courtroom for the last hearing of the day.
In the third case, the appellant, Michael Todd Austin was represented by Carmen Roe and Brian Wice for his conviction of sexual assault.
This case was very well delivered, easy to understand, and kept brief as both appellant and appellee argued the facts of the case.
As the last case came to an end, Chief Justice Gray opened the floor to the audience members, who had many questions for the attorneys regarding their jobs and roles. One student asked, “How do refrain from emotional attachment in cases such as the one presented today?” while others asked about the duration of cases and the complexity of courtroom procedures. Justice Gray, Carmen Roe, and Brian Wice, along with the prosecution attorney Doug Howell…
…answered each question with extensive knowledge for the students!
After the question session, the LEAP Ambassadors made their way down to greet the judges and have informal conversations and take pictures!
It was an honor hosting the 10th Court of Appeals for another year. We are very thankful to Chief Justice Gray, Justice Johnson, and Justice Smith for coming to Sam Houston and making it a memorable experience for students and faculty!