"Change of Venue"
HUNTSVILLE - The Bearkat and Huntsville communities can witness justice in action when the 10th Court of Appeals returns to Sam Houston State University to hold proceedings on Wednesday (April 2).
The court will hear its first case beginning at 10 a.m. in the Criminal Justice Center’s Hazel B. Kerper Courtroom. The other three cases will follow at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
This is the third year in a row in which the appeals court will leave its permanent seat in Waco to hear appellate cases in front of SHSU students, faculty and Huntsville residents.
“This is a great opportunity to see appeals court trials live. It’s a bit different than what is traditionally shown on television, although the real thing has its own dramatic elements,” said Mike Yawn, clinical professor of political science and pre-law adviser at SHSU.
The 10th Court of Appeals, which includes Chief Justice Tom Gray and Justices Rex Davis and Al Scoggins, will hear four civil cases while on the SHSU campus, unlike last year’s docket of criminal cases, providing an opportunity for students to learn the difference between the two.
"The public in general is more familiar with criminal cases, with crimes such as murder and kidnapping getting most of the media attention. But more Americans are likely to be involved in civil proceedings, whether it is a damages claim, problems with a landlord, a personal injury issue, a divorce, or a will,” Yawn said. “The upcoming trials should be a good way to shine light on this less covered side of the law.”
Prior to committing to moving proceedings to Huntsville for a day, the appellate court searched for cases that would be of interest to SHSU students and ones in which the attorneys and clients involved would have no objections to traveling to Huntsville.
“I think it is a great opportunity for all students, not just pre-law students,” said Jessica Rodriguez, SHSU economics and international business double major, who is on the student advisory board of the SHSU Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, which is sponsoring the court’s visit. “It is important that students understand how the court really works. Cell phones are turned off, people aren’t talking or disrupting the proceedings like they do on TV.”
Two of the cases on the docket originated in Walker County; the other two were first in the Madison County court system. Students will get to listen in on a personal injury case and a damages case, among others.
As in the past two years, the justices will alter their rules for the courtroom proceedings at SHSU, allowing the attorneys to turn to the audience and give the facts of the case for three minutes.
“This is not done in regular courtroom proceedings, but since they are about to delve into some thorny legal issues, the attorneys can turn to the people there and explain the facts of the case, providing a context for the legal issues to be considered,” Yawn said.
Last year, 400 students, faculty and guests sat in on at least one of the court proceedings when the 10th Court of Appeals came to SHSU.
Yawn is hoping for just as impressive of a turnout this year, as he believes the experience provides a great educational opportunity.
“Most surveys show that out of the branches of government, the judiciary is the least understood,” Yawn said. “This brings the judges closer to the constituents and to the public they represent.
“Plus we have a large pre-law population here at Sam, and it allows them to see an up-close and real—not Hollywood—version of what a courtroom is all about,” he said. “They get to see what the attorneys do, what the justices do and what it also means to be a party in these types of lawsuits or criminal investigations.”
Yawn also believes the experience is positive for SHSU as a whole, as it allows the university to be seen as a center for these types of proceedings—a place government officials and agencies think of as an appropriate venue to highlight the work they do.
“We’d like to thank the Criminal Justice Center for providing facilities for this program,” Yawn said. “The facilities are first class, and they provide a closer proximity to what a trial would look like off campus.”
The event is open to the public, although Yawn encourages anyone who wants to attend one of the hearings to show up early, as seating is limited.
For more information about the 10th Court of Appeals’ visit to SHSU, contact Yawn at 936.294.1456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.