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Prominent court visits Law Center to hear arguments, student questions


The Texas 14th Court of Appeals had a three-judge Q&A session with law students and held oral arguments for two cases for students to watch law in action. | File Photo/The Cougar

Justice Marc Brown, who graduated from the Law Center in 1987, never planned on being a judge. However, during the 22 years he worked as a prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Brown realized his biggest complaint was the lack of criminal law experience among appellate judges.

In 2013, after presiding over the 180th District Court of Harris County for three years, he saw the opportunity to change that by filling an empty seat on Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals, but he hesitated to accept the position.

Then, his wife gave him an ultimatum.

“She just started laughing,” Brown said. “She said, ‘you do whatever you want, but if you don’t do this, you can never complain to me (about criminal law experience).”

The University of Houston Law Center hosted the Fourteenth Court of Appeals Friday at Krost Hall, where justices Brett Busby, Kevin Jewell and Brown heard oral arguments on civil and criminal cases and then conducted a Q&A panel with current law students.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals is composed of a chief justice and eight other justices. It has the power to review both civil and criminal cases appealed from lower courts in 10 Texas counties, including Harris County.

The justices first heard oral arguments for two related civil appeals — Harpst et al. v. Fleming and Wilson et al. v Fleming et al. In both cases, plaintiffs claim that Fleming, a law firm, improperly deducted certain expenses from their settlement amounts.

The justices then heard arguments on a criminal appeal — Islas v. State of Texas. The case discussed whether the State of Texas was in the wrong for failing to notify a magistrate — a judge — when withdrawing blood of someone accused of intoxicated manslaughter.

The appellant claimed that omitting an earlier blood withdrawal of the accused was misleading to the magistrate.

Until Friday, the most recent court to hear arguments at the Law Center was the Texas Supreme Court in September 2017. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited this spring.

Law Center Dean Leonard Baynes said the Fourteenth Court of Appeals visit was made possible by networking, emphasizing the power of it to students present.

Baynes recently attended a law review dinner where he sat next to Fourteenth Court of Appeals Chief Justice Ken Thompson. He invited her court to come out and hold arguments at the Law Center.

Following the arguments, there was a Q&A session between the judges and Law Center students. Law student Brooke Bentley asked how different political ideologies play a role between justices.

Busby said politics play no role — that’s not part of their job, even if they are elected in a political way.

“The skill set to get this job is totally different from the skill set to do it,” Brown said.

Several times, the justices stressed to current law students the importance of learning legal writing. When turning in briefs to a court, they must be as concise as possible.

“Don’t wait until page 30 where you developed all the argument to give us the punchline,” Busby said. “Give it to us upfront.”

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