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Texas Supreme Court Longview stop expected to draw thousands

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 9, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Texas Supreme Court

A visit next week by the Texas Supreme Court promises a rare treat for students from more than 30 East Texas high schools expected to arrive to see justices in action at the Belcher Center on the LeTourneau University campus.

About 1,000 students — in about 40 groups from public, private, religious and home-school classrooms — will join an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 legal professionals and members of the public on Feb. 16 for what’s shaping up to be anticipated as the most well-attended sojourn in the court’s roughly two decades of hosting sessions outside of Austin.

In addition to seeing the Supreme Court justices working, the students will be able to rub elbows with judges from the Tyler and Texarkana appeals courts, which are shutting down for the day to attend, along with lawyers from virtually every county bar association within 100 miles.

The public also is welcome to attend 9 a.m. legal arguments. Attendees are asked to arrive at least 45 minutes early for security screening.

"My memory is that it is probably one of the top (anticipated attendances)," Texas Supreme Court Administrative Assistant Nadine Schneider said, adding that Staff Attorney Osler McCarthy is at least as certain of the unofficial ranking. "He thinks this will be about the largest that we've had — by a long-shot, honestly."

The court drew about 500 people to a recent session in Amarillo and maybe 700 attendees when it set up shop at Austin College in Sherman, she said. An appearance in Lubbock, she said, drew Panhandle students.

"But we're talking about a couple of buses — not like this," she said.

The RSVP count for high school and college students earlier this week was 950 and growing,according to John Coppedge, a retired Longview surgeon who persuaded the court to make its second-ever appearance in Longview. The city shared a two-day session with Tyler in the late 1990s.

"And that number grows daily," said Coppedge, who is coordinating the event with LeTourneau University. "Some are coming from as far away as Dallas. We are having to revamp our scheduled breakout sessions designed for the students. And this will certainly, barring an ice storm that kills it all, guarantee a record crowd for the Texas Supreme Court in their two decades of traveling around the state. We currently estimate between 1,500 and 2,000 people total for the event."

The National Weather Service's forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a temperature range of 47 to 65 degrees on the day of the visit.

The high school students will be in demand when they step off their buses.

Representatives from 10 law schools, and a court-support institute in Arlington, will be setting up booths in the Belcher Center lobby, hoping to inspire young scholars toward careers in the legal trade.

Daniel Ostendorff, LeTourneau's political science department chairman, said those include law schools at Baylor, St. Mary's, South Texas, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech, SMU, LSU, Texas A&M and the University of Houston.

Area community colleges, too, have asked to attend the event.

Ostendorff said Kilgore College, Panola College, the University of Texas at Tyler and Texas College have signed on to bring students.

"We'll be ready," Ostendorff said. "It's going to be a great day. ... When the oral arguments are over, the career fair will be in full swing. It will be 4, 4 1/2 hours that people from the community can just pop in."

The Legal Career Fair, though, will take a back seat to what's happening on the Belcher Center's yellow longleaf pine stage.

"This is one of those rare opportunities," Ostendorff said. "You get to see elected officials doing the job they are voted for every six years. My hope is the students walk away ... realizing they're part of Texas and that being part of Texas' civic engagement actually makes a difference. ... I want our students to realize, you know what? You've got a voice, too."

The assistant history professor also is hopeful the nine justices realize something, too.

"I hope they see a great community in East Texas who are not only committed to excellence in the classroom but want to be engaged in their community, who really want to know what's going on," Ostendorff said. "I want them to see East Texas is engaged in the bigger conversation going on around Texas, and that it's a community of students who see themselves as having a role in this state."

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