Sept. 19, 2017 — The Supreme Court of Texas convened Friday at the University of Houston Law Center's Krost Hall to hear oral arguments in two cases involving parental rights and mandatory arbitration.
"It was a special day for the Law Center and we were delighted to have the Texas Supreme Court here," said Dean Leonard M. Baynes. "It gave our students a chance to see great lawyering and well prepared and thoughtful judges. It was a tonic after Hurricane Harvey for so many of us that we're moving forward."
In the 19th century when Texas first entered the Union, the state Supreme Court was required to sit only in the city of Austin. Occasionally, the Constitution would change to allow the court to sit elsewhere in Texas, but it wasn't until the 1990s that an amendment passed in the legislature that allowed the court to sit anywhere in the state anytime it chooses. It marked the first time in more than a decade that the court convened at the Law Center.
"The court was pleased to hear oral arguments at the University of Houston Law Center," said Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht. "We've had Law Center alums over the years serve on the court, like my good friend Raul Gonzalez who is now retired, and Justice Jeff Brown now. Justice Eva Guzman is a University of Houston graduate and honorary Law Center alum. We consider this to be a strong school for Texas.
"I hope law students who attended will see that the third branch of government does business differently from the other two. It's very deliberative; it's very orderly, thoughtful, honest and provocative. The judges ask hard questions and the lawyers need to give straight answers. The cases are hard and close and most of the time there is no one right answer. I hope people see that this is a place where you're going to be treated fairly."
The Court heard oral arguments on two cases on appeal from the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio.
The first case involved a couple dealing with drug and neglect issues who voluntarily relinquished parental rights to their daughter. While a state district judge found that was in the child's "best interest," the appellate court ruled "best interest" had not been proved.
The state appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that voluntarily relinquishing parental rights is proof of doing what's in the "best interest" of the child. It also argues the parents' appeal did not meet criteria spelled out in the Family Code limiting a challenge "to issues relating to fraud, duress, or coercion in the execution of the affidavit."
The second case was a challenge by payday loan borrowers to mandatory arbitration of complaints under terms of loan agreements with the lender, Cash Biz. The borrowers contend the arbitration agreement had been waived because the lender had involved the judicial process by filing criminal bad check charges, resulting in borrowers paying heavy fines and even serving jail sentences.
Following the oral arguments, Dr. Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Houston, hosted a welcome lunch in the Hendricks Heritage Room with the justices, Law Center administration and faculty and select students.
"I can't say enough about how honored we were to have our Texas Supreme Court justices here in our midst," Short said. "We were Cougar proud and Cougar honored to have them here. Being able to observe oral arguments and the court's important work was thrilling for so many people."
"The Law Center has made me a very proud alumnus," added Justice Jeffrey Brown '95. "To come back to the school and have it be so hospitable to the court, it was a great trip and it was great to come back and have the red carpet rolled out for us. I have very fond memories of my time here at UH and I get back as often as I can. I'm very proud of what this school does."
The visit concluded with three separate sessions for pre-law students and current Law Center students.
Justices John Devine, Paul Green and Debra Lehrmann spoke to pre-law students. Justices Guzman, Hecht and Phil Johnson's session discussed advocacy. Clerkships were the focus of a session with Justices Jeffrey Boyd and Brown.
The Law Center hosted a welcome dinner for the Texas Supreme Court justices Thursday at the Sam Houston Hotel which included a private cocktail hour for members of the court and Dean's Society members.