Our second meeting of the fall semester was a success. The meeting began with our president, Quinn Kobrin, introducing the new officers to the Pre-Law Society members.
After that, we briefly discussed law school preparation. Michael Freeman (senior), asked, “How long does it take for law schools to let you know their admissions decision?” Professor Yawn explained that it can take weeks, if not months, and it depends on factors such as your LSAT score and GPA, and how badly they would like you to come to their school. It was then suggested that members use all available resources to help prepare for the LSAT, especially asking members who have already taken their LSAT for help and advice.
We were then showed a video of Texas’ 10th Court of Appeals on a Zoom call to learn how they discuss oral arguments during the pandemic, and see what challenges are presented by the virtual experience. It was apparent that both the attorneys and the judges were still adjusting to the format, as there were a few awkward moments where individuals dealt with connection or sound issues.
Our members were then in for an unexpected treat. We watched two short clips from the movies, Death Wish and Fargo. Death Wish showed a mugging that ended in three murders, and Fargo showed an aggravated burglary. While watching these videos, an actor walked in and took an envelope – which our members believed contained the organization’s cash on hand – from right under our president’s nose.
With these three crimes committed, witnesses were chosen from the group and taken to another room to write witness statements. We selected a number of attorneys to question the witnesses, including Michael Freeman, and Jase Brazzil (senior). One by one, witnesses were brought back into the room and an attorney was given their statement. It was then the attorney’s job to either get the witness to reaffirm their story or to catch inconsistencies to determine whether or not the witness was credible.
While doing this activity, despite the challenge of communication presented by wearing masks, we had a good laugh and discussion about what the suspects looked like and what really happened in the “crimes.” The exercise was a good reminder that not all witness accounts are reliable because we all perceive things differently.
This activity concluded the meeting, and we are looking forward to our final meeting of the fall semester, which will be on November 18th.
In a continuation of the LEAP Center’s Facebook one-on-one series, Professor Yawn interviewed Professor Jim Olson about his life during and after his career as a CIA case officer. This having been my first time hearing Mr. Olson speak, I was astounded at how little I knew about the world of counterintelligence.
Olson began the conversation with a definition of counterintelligence. He explained that its purpose is to protect the United States from other nations who may try to steal our secrets and technology. Much to my surprise, he told us that there are approximately 80 countries spying on us right now.
The conversation then turned to Olson’s 31-year career in the Clandestine Service. He was asked about his cover identity, which he could not share in great detail, but he explained that when he was in another nation, he would often have a cover as a U.S. diplomat, so he would have diplomatic immunity if he got into trouble. Sometimes, however, he was in other countries without working as a diplomat, and therefore would be subject to that country’s justice system if he were caught.
He shared that he and his wife – also a case officer within the CIA – never anticipated to come out from their cover identities, because doing so posed a threat to themselves and to their family. However, he was approached by President George H.W. Bush and George Tenet (former Director Central Intelligence) to work at the Bush School of Public Service. Olson was excited for the opportunity, but there is a CIA policy that does not allow officers to go onto college campuses covertly (which was news to me). So, he was forced to give up his cover.
In a similar vein, he was asked about how he and his wife broke the news to their children that they were officers in the CIA, and how they took it. Apparently, when he was stationed in Vienna, terrorists managed to get ahold of his address and sent him a death threat. They decided to tell their oldest son, who was sixteen at the time, and asked him to look after his siblings. As each of their children learned, he said, they took the information in with a sense of pride. He told us that each of his children has now gone on to pursue a career in the service of others.
Next he discussed CIA recruitment methods. We learned that the CIA seeks out a variety of candidates who may be cut out for a career as a case officer. Mainly, they are looking for character; they want recruits who are reliable and trustworthy.
To prepare for a career in the Clandestine Service (one of the most commonly asked questions of the event) Olson said that a bachelor’s degree usually would not be enough, and that students should aim to get a graduate degree of some kind. He suggested learning new languages, taking on roles of leadership, and working in positions that might allow you to travel abroad.
On the subject of character, he spoke briefly about some former CIA officers who betrayed the United States. He spoke vehemently about his former colleague Aldrich “Rick” Ames, who he considers the worst traitor to the country for turning over to the KGB. He explained that Ames had identified Russians who were working for the CIA to the KGB, which led to their imprisonment or execution.
To wrap up the session, we asked Olson what he wanted people to know about the CIA. He explained that CIA case officers are public servants. They do not do what they do for money, power, prestige, or status. They do what they do with honorable intentions.
Despite all of the challenges of COVID-19, the Center for Law, Engagement, and Politics continues to provide engaging and interesting learning opportunities for students. Most recently, students were able to watch a Facebook live interview with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, where she discussed her grandfather’s leadership in World War II and as president. Author of the biography How Ike Led, she had much to share about his life and overall legacy.
The interview began with a look at President Eisenhower’s role in D-Day,
liberating Europe from Nazi rule, and his handling of the discovery of concentration camps. It was explained that Eisenhower opted for a broad, slow advance to defeat the Nazi empire, rather than a fast and hasty one. He wanted to bring an end to the regime, and prevent it from rising to power again, and for his approach he was criticized by some who wanted a quicker–but riskier–approach.
In spite of his critics, this slow advance would be an important factor that led to the discovery of concentration camps. When he learned of the atrocities, he took it upon himself to examine every corner of the camps to understand what had happened and how it had come to pass.
She told us that he then issued orders for as many people as possible to document and bear witness to the camps. He brought in journalists, elected officials, and everyone fighting on the front lines.
He then had townspeople from surrounding areas marched through to see what their denial and willful ignorance had led to, and many were made to give burials to the deceased.
As she discussed the importance of Eisenhower’s foresight, and how he was able to anticipate that many people would not believe what had happened in the camps, Susan Eisenhower reminded us that Germany is one of the few countries in the world with zero tolerance of Holocaust denial. LEAP ambassadors learned about Germany’s efforts to reverse the wrongs of the Holocaust and its lingering effects earlier this year.
As the discussion transitioned to Eisenhower’s post-war service, I learned several interesting facts about his commitment to service and duty…
Apparently, on more than one occasion, President Truman offered not to run for reelection after his term, and instead let Eisenhower run for the Democratic nomination. Eisenhower refused each time because he was not in search of power. His granddaughter reminded us that he had wielded more power than most other leaders during World War II, and did not want run for president except when he felt it was his absolutely duty to do so.
A few other aspects of his commitment to duty were his refusal to wear a helmet because they should only be worn by those serving in combat, and his refusal to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor for the same reason – it was meant for those who had shown valor in combat.
The conversation then pivoted to Eisenhower’s leadership style as president of the United States. It was made clear that he did not engage in personal attacks; he was strategic and methodical in his political approach. When dealing with Senator McCarthy and his infamous hearings, Eisenhower did not call him out directly. Instead, he gave speeches about what American democracy should look like, insisted on televising the outrageous investigations, and let the Senate come to censure McCarthy on their own.
President Eisenhower also suffered no nonsense when it came to dealing with issues of race. As LEAP ambassadors learned in January of this year, the governor of Arkansas – Orval Faubus – dragged his feet in complying with the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, and made every effort to not desegregate schools. In response to this, Eisenhower mobilized the Arkansas National Guard and deployed 101st Airborne (paratroopers he had commanded on D-Day) to protect a group of African American students, immortalized in history as the “Little Rock Nine,” as they desegregated Little Rock Central High.
Susan Eisenhower then spoke about how her grandfather was a leader through study and discipline, and was naturally empathetic. He knew what people needed to hear, and tried to be relatable and genuine whenever he could. We saw a picture of him speaking with members of the 101st Airborne Division prior to D-Day and were told that he was discussing fly-fishing techniques with Lt. Wallace Strobel, rather than giving a pep talk about their mission. He wanted to remind them of their humanity.
Finally, President Eisenhower’s legacy of leadership and empathy are embodied eternally in Norman Rockwell’s portraits of him, which at various times depict him both serious and smiling. As his granddaughter explained, the big, toothy grin we saw was his trademark smile, as he was generally in good spirits around his family.
As the meeting came to a close, Susan Eisenhower reminded us that we will “be better as people if we can understand the views of those who come from…different backgrounds,” encouraging us to be ‘like Ike’ when it came to how we view and deal with those who are different than us.
This interview was so interesting and informative, and we were incredibly lucky to hear from Susan Eisenhower. We are grateful for her time and insight, and look forward to the possibility of meeting her in person someday soon.
In our sixth and final meeting in September for LEAP LEADs, we had the privilege of learning from SHSU Vice-Provost Chris Maynard and legendary Washington Post reporter (and author) Bob Woodward. The night was as entertaining as it was educational.
Dr. Chris Maynard serves as Vice Provost, a position that is a mystery to most students. He attended our LEAP LEADs meeting to help de-mystify that position and to provide larger lessons about the University structure.
Dr. Maynard drew on a wealth of experience: he has been a Dean, Chair, (University of North Alabama) and a Professor (University of North Alabama and Dakota State University). The conversation with Dr. Maynard was as broad as his education and experience.
He provided advice to students considering law or graduate school (“Have a game plan–make sure you pursuing goals and that those degrees fit in with those goals”) and on being successful in our chosen fields (“find successful people in our area, and learn as much as possible from them”–good advice for people doing just that in LEAP LEADs!).
He also discussed the disruption caused by COVID, from everything to changing the way we market and offer classes, to dealing with media concerns, to providing students the “University” experience. He was adamant that, despite the vexations caused by COVID, the University degree and experience is valuable and worthwhile–something with which we all agree.
We also had a chance to ask Dr. Maynard about his area of expertise: political history. And while he did discuss history (see below), he also discussed the future and the challenge we face in cybersecurity. During the Cold War, there were two super powers and their allies coalesced against each other, but there was a type of stability. Now, “a person with the right skill set and a laptop can hack into a government’s system and wreak havoc.”
Of course, we also asked many questions about the end of the Cold War and the careers of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and James Baker. He described the different styles of Reagan and Bush, while also discussing the unique talents of James Baker, about whom we also had the pleasure of watching a Texas Tribune Festival presentation (featuring Mark Updegrove, Susan Glasser, and Peter Baker).
The discussion of these men and their accomplishments set the stage, bathed in high-contrast light, for our final event of the evening: hearing Bob Woodward discuss his new book, “Rage,” on the Trump Administration.
We enjoyed our dinner from Carbonero as we watched Woodward discuss the Trump Administration and the conclusions he drew from 17 separate interviews with President Trump–both before and after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Woodward’s report, which sometimes contained various expletives (all while quoting Trump administration officials), portrayed Trump as a contradictory figure. At times the President acknowledged the danger posed by COVID; other times, he seemed indifferent or dismissive of the threats it presented. And even as these important discussions were taking place, Trump, according to Woodward, would be fixated on things like photos he took with world leaders. It was an unsettling discussion, one made more unsettling by the news that broke shortly thereafter about the President contracting COVID.
We’ve learned quite a lot this fall, but one thing has been made most clear: all these discussions–whether on local government, University administration, national politics, or COVID–are all related.
Following several meetings with guest speakers such as Commissioner Bill Daugette and (virtual) Rep. Senfronia Thompson as part of our LEAP LEADs program, our educational odyssey continued with additional training and guest speakers.
Tonight, in our fifth meeting, we began with an introduction from Ms. Fors, who provided us with tips on email etiquette and how to create an email signature block. We were reminded to (1) keep emails short unless length is absolutely necessary, (2) to use a subject heading that is accurate and telling, (3) and to ensure that the email employs good grammar and correct spelling.
After Ms. Fors’ extremely instructive discussion, we moved on to watch the Texas Tribune Festival’s discussion with Peter Hotez, the dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and an expert in vaccine development.
As optimistic as we all were about the current COVID-19 situation, watching this talk with Hotez certainly put a damper on our hopes about the virus. Hotez shared that “vaccines may not be introduced until spring 2021” and that we are likely to have a third surge in COVID-19 cases–and that it could be even worse than before. Though this discussion wasn’t filled with the best of news, it most definitely provided us with new information to keep in mind as we continue to navigate through this new COVID lifestyle that we may begin to call “normal” pretty soon.
The highlight of our night was a Q&A with Dr. Christine Blackburn, the Assistant Research Scientist, lecturer, and Deputy Director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity and Policy Program at the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs.
During this Q&A the eight LEAP LEADs’ students were able to engage in an interactive conversation with Dr. Blackburn on her career, her advice to young people and the substantive aspects of the Coronavirus–which was very educational.
We learned, for example, the 3-4 phases a vaccine must go through to become approved.
We, apparently, are nearing phase three trials, which means tightly controlled experiments on humans should begin.
One of the interesting things about Dr. Blackburn is her educational background. She has an “individual interdisciplinary Ph.D.” in “Political Science, Communications, and Veterinary Science.” The idea is that, as the world becomes more specialized and silo-like, people with interdisciplinary degrees can cut across multiple domains. She persisted in this degree despite others telling her, “No one is going to hire someone with that combination of degrees.” But, of course, the ability to cut across domains is exactly what is needed in a pandemic because it affects supply chains, economics, food and, of course, health–all the while being entangled with politics.
In conclusion, we asked Dr. Blackburn what her goals were and what she hopes to accomplish. She prefaced her response by saying it was a “cliche,” but that she went into her field just “hoping to make the world a better place.” And for a group of students who signed up for LEAP LEADs, in part, to make the world a better place, it was a validating answer.
Finally, our eventful night ended by us getting our dinner from Farmhouse Café and talking amongst ourselves about how interesting and inspiring our talk with Dr. Blackburn was. Though it was only our fifth meeting of the semester I am excited to continue to learn and grow along side other individuals who are eager to do the same.
Our fourth LEAP LEADs meeting was, again, full of educational opportunities. As soon as everyone settled in, we jumped right in by discussing our potential future careers and practiced interviewing used the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method.
We separated into two groups: the interviewers and the interviewees. I love speaking, so I decided that I wanted to be an interviewer, and when the scenario began, I asked Jayelynn and Juan questions regarding the position of being a Victim’s Advocate.
As we wrapped up the interview process, we learned that the STAR method is a tried and true way to make a strong impression in an interview. By sharing an example and relating it to the interview question, you can support your answers with evidence. The best part about this exercise is that we experienced how it feels to interview and be interviewed by our peers.
While eating fantastic food from Mama Juanita’s, we tune into the Texas Tribune Festival. The discussion this tonight is about how COVID-19 affects higher education, with a panel featuring Chancellor Renu Khator from the University of Houston System, Chancellor J.B. Milliken from the University of Texas System, and John Sharp from the Texas A&M University System.
These systems are three of the most prominent university systems in Texas, so the respective chancellors wanted to address students’ and parents’ concerns about the next step for higher education. Each chancellor expressed their concerns regarding student and faculty health, and all of them explained that their schools have structured protocol if a faculty or student gets in contact with COVID-19.
The chancellors all confirmed that they were restricting their in-person classes to, at least in one case, to as low as 5% of their total classes. They also stressed the need to be flexible and make necessary changes. It was interesting to find out that, while some Universities cancelled their football games (SHSU included) these three Universities did not. Chancellor J.B. Milliken explained, “…we will have social distancing guidelines for our stadium, and we will require fans to wear masks.”
Lastly, we tuned into our final Texas Tribune discussion, which addressed Public Health and the 87th Legislature in Texas.
The discussion featured Representative Senfronia Thompson (D) from Houston, Texas, and Representative James Frank (R) from Wichita Falls, Texas. Representative Thompson has the honor of being the longest-serving African American woman for the Houston area since 1972.
Representative Frank is a successful businessman in his fourth term in the Texas House of Representatives. The discussion centered around nursing homes, how they have been directly hit by COVID-19, and how the elderly are being negatively affected by the various policies and protocols in place to deal with the pandemic. Representative Thompson shared how her sister had an immediate effect on being housed at a nursing home during COVID-19, and unfortunately, she passed away due to her health conditions. While public health is currently vital in Texas, the 87th legislative session will occur on January 12, 2021.This meeting has been my favorite because I got to learn how chancellors run their university systems while learning about public health.
It is often easy to get caught up in school and extracurricular activities, and I find myself getting lost. Over the past few weeks, Leap LEADs has been influencing me to keep my eye on the prize. Adjusting to school this semester has been a struggle, but tonight’s meeting, and the exercises we did….
….made me think about why I came to college and what I want to leave with.
The night began with us talking about our day-to-day schedule and time management. Specifically, we got estimates of how much time we spent in a week attending class, studying, working out, eating, self-care, sleeping, leisure time, etc. Iriyana added up the total hours spent in the week and we pondered about what we did with the rest of our time.
Personally, this led me to evaluate how I am using my time and opened my eyes to my free time I am not using wisely. We also spent some times discussing short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals, and how those should fit together.
Professor Yawn emphasized the importance of making sure our short term goals match up with our goals in the future. This is very important to me because if I do not begin to prepare now and take baby steps toward who I want to be in the long run, then I am wasting my time. We discussed the areas we lack professionally, which leads to the importance of self-awareness. Self-awareness is substantial because before you can elevate you have to be alert to the baggage holding you back.
I feel one of the motives of Leap Leads is to make us aware. Whether it be aware of our opportunities, potential, knowledge, future, etc. Tonight I was driven to be knowledgeable of the levels of court. Particularly, we discussed Texas’s five-tiered court system. The lowest levels being the Justice of Peace and Municipal Court . Both courts deal with misdemeanors, with a focus on traffic stops and misdemeanors punishable by fine only. The County Court at law deals with cases more severe than minor offenses. For example, Class A and B misdemeanors or DWI cases (where no one was hurt).
The higher levels of court are the District Courts, Appeals Court and then the highest level: the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas is a bit different because they have the Supreme court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Supreme Court deals with civil cases and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals deals with criminal cases, for example, murders and the death penalty. Something I learned that stuck out to me about the county government is that a county judge is not a traditional judge. County judges are able to marry people and declare a person insane, but unless they preside over one of the smaller counties, they have little to do with the traditional concept of a judge.
Speaking of County Judges, tonight we were enlightened by the appearances of Lina Hidalgo and Clay Jenkins at the Texas Tribune Festival while enjoying dinner from City Hall Cafe.
Lina Hidalgo is the Harris County judge and Clay Jenkins is the Dallas County judge.
Lina Hidalgo began her term as the County of Harris County in 2018. This was significant because she was the first woman to be elected county judge in Harris county.
Clay Jenkins has been a county judge in Dallas since 2011.
Both judges expressed difficulties they have had dealing with the outbreak of the CoronaVirus. Specifically, with the legislation put in place by Governor Abbott restricting their power to enforce masks due to Covid-19. I agreed with Hidalgo’s statements that the enforcement of masks should not be political and rather just what is best for communities. Both County Judges discussed having concerns with the outbreak before anything was done and were not in favor of opening up before the curve had flattened. Ultimately, I took away that County Judges normally have a lot more power when a state of emergency is declared.
I spent some time interacting with Juan during our workshop, which was on property tax. We learned how to calculate property taxes, learning the role of the Appraisal District, the Commissioners Court, and the taxpayer in the process.
This evening was informative and I believe Leap Leads is keeping me on track with my goals in the future. We ended with Professor Yawn challenging us to do something different this week.
Amid the limitations of COVID-19, the Pre-Law Society kicked off the new semester virtually by way a Facebook Live interview with attorney and SHSU alum Chris Tritico!
Tritico had many great stories and advice to share, including his time working with the legendary Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.
He talked about how Haynes could cross-examine a witness by slicing questions – or slightly changing the question – until he got the answer he felt was the truth.
He then shared a story about Haynes and his work on the trial of Morgana, the “Kissing Bandit,” a woman with large breasts…
…who had a habit of interrupting baseball games by running across the field to kiss a player. She did this once during an Astro’s game, and kissed Nolan Ryan.
She was arrested for this and charged with trespassing. When the case went to trial, she hired Haynes to represent her, and when asked what her defense was for trespassing, Hayne said simply, “Gravity.” He argued that she was trying to catch a foul ball, ended up falling over the fence, and decided to kiss Nolan Ryan while she was there. The case against her was dropped.
Tritico went on to discuss his own career, sharing that he eventually left and started his own law firm. Early on in his career, he became a go-to for educational law. He met someone who had been arrested and was a member of a teacher’s union, in search of representation. He told the person to go to his union, and find out who their attorney was, and sent him on his way. Shortly thereafter, a grateful leader within the teacher’s union – which happened to be the American Federation of Teachers – offered the role of union lawyer to Tritico. From then on, he became an expert in educational law.
One of the most moving stories of the evening was the story of Old Main, the most architecturally interesting building on SHSU’s campus.
In the early morning in February 1982, when Tritico was President of the student body, he got a call that Old Main was on fire. He rushed to the scene and asked Dean Powell what he could do. He was told to keep students away from the fire and wait for someone to relieve him. He ended up standing there for 17 hours.
The discussion came to the long-awaited topic: Tritico’s time representing Timothy McVeigh in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing.
When interviewing with the existing attorneys to see whether he would be hired, Tritico was told that the attorneys were hoping to bring on a woman as additional counsel. Tritico responded, “If it means that much to you, I’ll wear a dress!” With that comment, he was hired, and worked on one of the biggest cases of domestic terrorism to that date.
We wrapped the evening up with a brief Q&A session. (Disclaimer: questions and answers are paraphrased.)
Q: How do you represent guys like McVeigh?
A: My job is not to support or condone the actions people take, my job is to protect and uphold the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Q: Can you tell us about “Potty-gate?”
A: There was a woman at a George Strait concert at the Astrodome who needed to go to the bathroom, but there were more men’s restrooms than women’s, so she went into a men’s bathroom and did her business. When she came out, two police officers were there to arrest her for violating an ordinance not allowing people to use the restroom of the opposite gender to cause a disturbance. She was acquitted after two days.
Q: Can you tell us more about the painting behind you?
A: This was painted by my wife, Debbie, and shows the reunion of me with my one-year-old son following my return from the McVeigh case. It brings tears to my eyes because I was away for a work often when he was younger. (This story brought tears to everyone’s eyes.)
In spite of the challenges presented by COVID-19, we are excited to get started with a new semester in the Pre-Law Society! We look forward to talking with guests we may not always be able to talk to in person, finding creative new ways to interact with each other, and learning as much as we can about the law.