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Justices eager to meet students, public Thursday

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 15, 2017 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 15, 2017 at 10:04 p.m.

Justices Debra Lehrmann, left, Jeff Brown, Eva Guzman and other members of the Texas Supreme Court visit Wednesday with local judges and others while touring the  Belcher Center  at LeTourneau University.

Audience and live-stream viewers of today's Texas Supreme Court session in Longview might learn more than the justices questioning the lawyers.

"It's so important for the public to understand the three branches of government and the rule of law," Justice Debra Lehrmann said Wednesday as she and her eight fellow justices took their first look at LeTourneau University's Belcher Center where they will hear two cases beginning at 9 a.m. today.

"That's the reason the court feels it's important to go to different locations across the state. ... It helps people realize that it's real — it's not some faraway, distant thing," she said.

This particular location might stay with the judges after they leave, if only for the unprecedented 815 high school and 220 college students coming from as far as Dallas.

"We want them to see how the court works," Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said of students in the audience, which is expected to approach the Belcher Center's 2,011-seat capacity. "We want them to see that this is a very deliberative body. We ask a lot of questions. We probe into the parties' issues. It's not about what side you're on, it's not about any bias. It's a judge trying to get to the real issues."

Justices will hear two cases by 11 a.m. today, when they will head to a luncheon in their honor while a legal career fair gets underway in the Belcher Center's Grand Lobby. A dozen law schools were setting up booths Wednesday to attract students.

The justices will spend this afternoon teaching continuing education classes for the 200 or so lawyers from across the region who are expected in town.

While at the Belcher Center on Wednesday, the chief justice expressed optimism that a hurdle in the Supreme Court's mandate that courts adopt an online, paperless system can be overcome. The state's district and county clerks, who process and preserve those records, oppose giving up any of their constitutionally mandated control of those documents to the state's private software vendor.

"The third-party vendor has suggested it would open the portal for public access and then direct the traffic to the clerks' offices," Hecht said, explaining that public requests for records would funnel to the clerks who would field the request and send records back to the vendor. "And the clerk would get the fees. It's already got some positive reception to that idea. It wouldn't be the vendor keeping the documents. It would be the vendor directing the traffic."

The justices wandering through the Belcher Center on Wednesday gave the venue a positive judgment. Lehrmann, who practiced law in Fort Worth, drew a comparison to a venue there as soon as she stepped in from the lobby.

"It reminds me of the Bass Hall," she said. "It's really beautiful."

Justice Phil Johnson also admired his surroundings in the 10-year-old facility.

"I've seen opera houses in New York City that would come in second to this deal," Johnson said, adding the students and rest of the public are in for top-drawer lawyering from attorneys they'll hear today.

Those include former Supreme Court justices Wallace Jefferson and Craig Enoch, who will oppose each other in the first case, an inheritance dispute.

"You spend a lot of time getting here," Johnson said. "And (today) we've got good lawyers. ... You're going to hear as good as you're going to see out of them."

Johnson also endorsed his Piney Woods surroundings.

"After you've been fighting the traffic in Central Texas," he said, "you appreciate livable communities."

The Belcher Center is at 2100 S. Mobberly Ave. in Longview.

Texas Supreme Court visit schedule

  • 8 a.m.: Belcher Center doors open for general public.
  • 9 a.m.: Oral arguments begin in Belcher Center. The event will be live-streamed at http://www.news-journal.com/court and at https://www.texasbar.com.
  • 10:55 a.m.: Question-and-answer session with the court in the Belcher Center.
  • 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Legal Career Fair in Belcher Grand Lobby will provide the attending public, including high school and college-age students, the opportunity to learn more about pursuing a legal career.
  • 1:15 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Attending high school and college students will have the opportunity to hear from Justice John Phillip Devine and Justice Don R. Willett in half-hour sessions about pursuing a legal career in Texas.
  • 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd will give a free, public address in the Belcher Center auditorium titled "God, the Courts, and the Law." As a Supreme Court justice and ordained minister, Justice Boyd will be speaking on the relationship between faith, law, and civic engagement.

In addition to the "Law as a Career Day" events targeted at high school and college students, as well as members of the general public interested in pursuing a legal career, a formal luncheon with the justices is planned, followed by seven breakout sessions at the Gregg County courthouse, led by a court justice, on various aspects of Texas law and legal practice.

More information can be found at www.greggcountybar.com. Lawyers will be eligible for 2.5 hours of continuing legal-education credit for attending the oral arguments and the question-and-answer session with the court. Each of seven afternoon breakout sessions at the Gregg County Courthouse will offer 1.5 hours of CLE credit.

More Texas Supreme Court coverage:

Texas Supreme Court will gavel-in at Longview's Belcher Center Thursday

Texas Supreme Court to hear weighty issues in Longview

Security tight for visit by state's highest court

Texas Supreme Court needed voters' permission to travel

Texas Supreme Court Longview stop expected to draw thousands

Texas Supreme Court justice profiles:

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