Sunday, February 18, 2018

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

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 15, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The arguments will be in the morning, but that's only the start of the work day for the nine Texas Supreme Court justices arriving in Longview.

Gaveling in at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Belcher Center on the LeTourneau University campus, the court is set to hear 105 minutes of oral arguments while a dozen university law schools set up booths to welcome more than 1,000 students from across the region.

Two law clerks act as marshals for the court.

"In between arguments, they will ask the audience to rise when the court leaves the bench and ask the audience to rise when the court comes back in," said Nadine Schneider, administrative assistant to the court.

The court's clerk, Blake Hawthorne, will announce the start of the session with the traditional, "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez," a late Middle English call pronounced more like, "Oh, yay."

"There is some history to it," Schneider said, adding the marshals get that honor at the session's close. "It's quite an honor. I actually got to open court one time. I was actually nervous; I practiced all night."

Visitors attending the session will see the orderly back-and-forth between the justices and attorneys arguing the cases.

Jessica LaRue, president of the Gregg County Bar Association, said two of the lawyers arguing on Thursday — Wallace Jefferson and Craig Enoch — are former Texas Supreme Court justices themselves.

"I'm interested to watch the proceedings," said LaRue, who was in junior high when the state's highest civil court held a morning session at Pine Tree High School. "It made an impression."

It's already impressed Longview Mayor Andy Mack, who in addition to the justices is happy to welcome more than 1,000 area high school and college students to his town.

"What an honor it is to have the Texas Supreme Court in Longview," the mayor said in a statement. "I want to express my appreciation to Dr. John Coppedge and LeTourneau University for making this occasion possible for our community. It is such a wonderful educational opportunity for students and the community as a whole. I also want to commend the Texas Supreme Court for taking the initiative to travel around the state and including Longview as a part of that."

After their session Thursday, the justices will have a short break before returning to the Belcher Center stage for a 30-minute Q&A with their audience.

A luncheon on campus follows that, with Chief Justice Nathan Hecht speaking on "The Texas Supreme Court — Past and Present."

Thirty of the 224 luncheon tickets were available as of Feb. 10. Anyone interested should email LaRue at Cost is $30, payable to LeTourneau University to "Texas Supreme Court in East Texas" and mailed to 1725 FM 2751, Longview, TX 75605. Holders will be asked to pick up tickets at will call in the student center.

After lunch, the justices shift into professorial mode, each conducting a continuing education class for the hundreds of lawyers expected in town for the day. Some of those will be in LeTourneau classrooms, others in the Gregg County Courthouse.

"Each one of the justices is going to hold different classes in each courtroom with the bar association," County Judge Bill Stoudt said, also crediting Longview retired surgeon Coppedge for delivering the court to Longview.

Coppedge, for decades, has shepherded judicial candidates at all state levels during their campaigns, regardless of whether a particular judge is his pick.

"I would first give all the credit to Dr. Coppedge," Stoudt said. "It's an absolute privilege to have the Supreme Court here for a week to do what they're doing, for the community and the students. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event."

Stoudt acknowledged an earlier visit by the court, maybe 15 years ago, but he noted that was a less-involved trip to hold a morning session and exit.

"But what they are doing now, it's big in terms of the amount of people that have committed to come," Stoudt said. "I think it's up to 1,500 now."

More Texas Supreme Court coverage:

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

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