All Rise: The 10th Court of Appeals

For the 12th year, the LEAP Center hosted the 10th Court of Appeals, allowing Sam Houston State University students and Huntsville residents to hear three appellate court cases in the Kerper Courtroom. The 10th Court of Appeals out of Waco, TX, which currently consists of Chief Justice Gray, Justice Johnson, and Justice Smith, serves 18 counties in Texas including Walker County.

We had a great showing for the first case, and we were happy to have Judges Moorman and Sorenson on hand to watch the cases.

One of the unusual things about these hearings is that each lawyer has three minutes to describe the facts of the case to the audience, after which they turn to the Justices and begin their formal arguments.

Attorneys have 20 minutes to make their arguments, which judges can interrupt for questions, and the appellant attorney gets a five-minute rebuttal after the appellee attorney has spoken. One of the enjoyable aspects about this year’s iteration of the cases is that we had the chance to sit in the jury box!

The second case, which involved deed restrictions, was unusual in that one of the parties was in the courtroom, as the attorneys argued their case.

After the 11 am hearing, the court was adjourned for lunch where LEAP Students were able to talk with the justices, community members, and even the Court Bailiff. I was lucky enough to be sitting with Justice Smith and Justice Johnson, who discussed their path to law school and their careers prior to being judges. We were able to ask questions about court proceedings and discussed how law enforcement and prosecutors work together. One question that I was excited to have answered was why attorneys always say, “May it please the court” before presenting their argument. Justice Smith informed us that it is a tradition and has no meaning or necessity. He also told us that he always wanted to say “It doesn’t” in response. The lunch was very valuable, allowing students to receive advice about their career paths and talk about their endeavors at school.

Court readjourned at 1:30 pm with another civil matter over a Lady Bird Deed, and the hearing turned out to be what is referred to as a “hot panel.” This Deed was drawn by a husband and wife to give land to the husband’s son. The wife revoked the deed after the husband’s passing and now the question is whether she is able to do that or not. There were a lot of questions asked by the judges and one very interesting point a student made to me after the hearing was the attorneys’ ability to be interrupted, answer the question, and go right back to their original point. This hearing raised a lot of questions about property ownership and intent, which was interesting to hear. At the end of the hearing, audience members were able to ask questions, and we learned much more about the justices, their workload, and the attorneys’ views on their careers.

After the audience and attorneys left, LEAP students were able to get pictures and have their brochures signed by the Justices. We helped clean up and continued to discuss different career paths within the legal profession, specifically discussing staff attorneys.

Thank you to everyone who came out to watch the cases today. Thank you to Chief Justice Gray, Justice Johnson, and Justice Smith for allowing students to have this opportunity and for being so welcoming and helpful to future law students.