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Monday, October 23, 2017

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State Supreme Court convenes at UH, offers advice to students


The Texas Supreme Court visited the UH Law Center Friday to hear two cases and talk to students, faculty, staff and members of the Houston legal community. | Jennifer Gonzalez/The Cougar

The Texas Supreme Court visited the University of Houston Law Center Sept. 15 for the first time in more than a decade to hear two cases and answer questions posed by UH law students.

The Texas State Supreme Court was not allowed to convene outside of Austin until a 1998 Texas Constitutional Amendment changed the rule and paved the way for the Court’s custom to meet in other cities around the state a few times every year, said Chief Justice Nathan Hecht.

“The court supported this amendment because we wanted people to not have to make the trip to Austin, not watch it on TV, not imagine what it’s like but actually see a real argument that’s not staged, that has real lawyers and real judges and a real stage and learn how the third branch works,” Hecht said. “We think it’s very important to do that. It’s a lot of trouble to go out of town, though.”

According to a UH press release, the first case involved a couple who relinquished parental rights of their child due to drug abuse and neglect. A state judge ruled that removing the child was in the child’s “best interest,” while an appellate judge deemed that best interest had not been proven.

The second case was a challenge by payday loan borrowers to mandatory arbitration of complaints under the terms of a loan agreement with their lender, Cash Biz. Because Cash Biz had involved the judicial process against the borrowers under the criminal bad check charges, the borrowers claimed arbitration of the loan agreement had been waived.

It is important for the Texas Supreme Court to meet outside Austin in an effort to allow Texas citizens to learn more about the judicial system outside of the decision that the courts made, said Justice Phil Johnson.

“Well, we think it’s important for people to see how the court functions,” Johnson said. “All you read about the court is the decision. It’s important for people to see that there’s a process and that these are hard cases. It’s important for people to come in and see that we’re trying to make the best decision for the state of Texas.”

While Hecht has been serving the Texas Supreme Court since 1988, making him the longest serving Supreme Court Justice in Texas History, he said he did not always want to be a lawyer. In fact, he was originally studying to be an engineer.

“I loved math in high school and I went to college to be an engineer,” Hecht said. “Turns out math didn’t love me as much as I loved it. Or science, neither one loved me. So, in college I had to look for something else and I had a friend who was maybe nine years older that was practicing law in my hometown, so I thought maybe that’s what I want to do.”

The visit marks the beginning of the UH’s third annual Judge Ruby Kless Sondock Jurist-in-Residence program that was intended to bring sitting jurists to campus to answer questions and interact with students, faculty and the Houston legal community.

Many of the students asked the justices for advice on their future careers.

“My biggest piece of advice is don’t get discouraged,” said Justice John Phillip Devine in response to a student question. “You’ve got a lot of bridges to cross and many challenges before you, and your first response will be to get discouraged. You’ll get turned down by jobs. I don’t know what the market is right now, but it’s always good for students with 4.0s. Not everyone has a 4.0, but you have other strengths. Those strengths are what you want to sell. Just don’t get discouraged.”

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