College of Criminal Justice Honors Academic Standouts

More than 200 people attended the College of Criminal Justice’s (COCJ) Honor’s Convocation Ceremony, where the College recognized their best and brightest. Adding poignancy to the event were the many alumni on hand, many of whom had endowed scholarships in memory of loved ones.

Dean Lyons led the proceedings, highlight the many accomplishments of the College and its storied history…

…before turning it over to Associate Dean Danielle Boisvert.

Dean Boisvert then introduced dozens of scholarships and more than 100 students who earned those scholarships, with faculty, staff, and alumni on hand to provide students with plaques and recognition.

The scholarships included numerous undergraduates, one of whom was President of LEAP Ambassadors, Jessica Cuevas.

Ms. Cuevas, in addition to being a Smith-Hutson Scholar, was awarded the O.B. Ellis-J.P. Gibbs Scholarship.

This was an apt scholarship, in that Cuevas occasionally volunteers at the J. Phillips Gibbs “Old Town Theatre,” providing a connection to the scholarship.

Graduate students were also recognized, including many in the Ph.D. program. Students such as Meghan Royle, Jazmin Polacios, and Cristal Hernandez-Avalos were recognized for the had work and accomplishments they have made while in graduate school.

Ed Owens, an SHSU alum and former Deputy Executive Director of TDCJ…

…was also on hand to congratulate Joaquin Padron, who was given the “Edward Glenn Owens” Scholarship.

Owens graduated from SHSU with a Criminal Justice degree, as did his wife, Rissie, who also teaches in the Criminal Justice Department, drawing on her expertise in pardons and paroles to instruct students.

It was a wonderful event, packed with students benefitting from the generosity of alumni, donors, faculty, and staff, and highlighting the best of Sam Houston State University.

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.

Pre-Law Society Meeting: Voir Dire

Last month’s Pre-Law Society meeting was a natural segue to the topic for this month’s Pre-Law Society meeting. Last month’s discussion featured three attorneys in a question-and-answer format focused on what to expect in law school and what life is like as an attorney.

This month’s meeting had multiple foci. First, the officers provided updates:

In the second part of the meeting, Jade Miller, Pre-Law Society President, Professor Mike Yawn, and Jean Loveall discussed a timeline to go to law school from freshman year to senior year of college.

Since Jade just completed her LSAT Prep, took the LSAT, and applied to her chosen law schools, she shared a wealth of information gleaned from her path to law school. With her personal story of LSAT Prep, Jade inspired the Pre-Law students with three strategies that worked for her: (1) take the Critical Thinking philosophy class (PHIL 2303); (2) budget your LSAT Prep time wisely; and (3) focus on developing and writing a strong argument when completing the Writing Sample part of the LSAT.

After hearing such encouraging words and valuable advice from the three presenters, the Pre-Law Society members were energized to engage in a voir dire activity. Voir dire is the process in which trial attorneys examine potential jurors before the jurors are selected to serve on the trial.

Amari Gallien presided over the voir dire as the Judge, Sephora Pham and Matthew May were the defense attorneys, and Professor Yawn was the prosecutor. As the potential jurors, each of the remaining Pre-Law Society members received a vignette of the character they would portray as a potential juror. These vignette characters ranged from a male country music singer/songwriter with a high school degree to a female accountant pregnant with her second child to a 72-year-old retired art history teacher. This activity introduced future attorneys to the nuanced questioning and strategies involved in selecting jurors for a criminal trial.

Thank you to all the Pre-Law Society members who participated in this interactive meeting. As president, Jade Miller has some exciting topics planned for next month’s meeting. One activity to look forward to is the cording of all Pre-Law Society members who are graduating in spring 2023. We hope to see all Pre-Law Society members on April 19th!