UH Law Center students see justice in action during Texas appeals court oral arguments

The University of Houston Law Center community received an up-close look at how the Texas 14th Court of Appeals operates last week in Krost Hall.

The University of Houston Law Center community received an up-close look at how the Texas 14th Court of Appeals operates last week in Krost Hall.

Sept. 27, 2018 — A three-judge panel of the Texas 14th Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on two connected civil cases and a criminal case last week at the University of Houston Law Center.

Justices Marc Brown, Brett Busby and Kevin Jewell heard arguments in Krost Hall before participating in a question-and-answer session with students. Brown '87 and Jewell '93 are Law Center alumni. Busby has previously served as an adjunct professor at the Law Center.

"Being able to host these oral arguments made for a very exciting day at the Law Center," Dean Leonard M. Baynes said. "I would like to thank the 14th Court of Appeals and Justices Brown, Busby and Jewell for being here and Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost who helped us secure the court's sitting on our campus. These sessions were terrific for our students who were able to see how law gets made."

The oral arguments began with two civil cases: Harpst et al. v. Fleming et al. and Wilson et al. v. Fleming et al. The cases are related appeals of a jury verdict and a summary judgment. In both cases, the plaintiffs are former clients of a lawyer and his law firm. The firm represented the plaintiffs in settling a mass-tort lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company. The plaintiffs claimed that the firm improperly deducted certain expenses from the plaintiff's settlement amounts.

The third case, Islas v. State of Texas, involved a motorist who was indicted on a felony charge of intoxication manslaughter. In 2014, the appellant ran a red light and struck another vehicle, killing a passenger. He was taken to a hospital where his blood was drawn three times: by the hospital for medical reasons, by the state without a search warrant, and again by the state with a search warrant. The appellant moved to suppress the evidence obtained from all three blood draws. A trial court granted his motion for the first two, but not the third. After waiving a jury trial and pleading guilty, he is now appealing the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained in the third blood draw.

When responding to inquiries from students, Busby and Jewell highlighted the significance of clear and persuasive writing.

"A brief is where you want to make your clearest argument," Busby said. "I'm a big fan of highly-organized briefs where it's not a mystery until you get to the end and try to figure out what the point is. Tell us up front. Don't wait until page 30 when you've developed all the arguments to develop the punchline. Give it to us up front so that we understand your conclusion."

"I cannot emphasize enough how much you must practice your writing," Jewell added. "Whenever I'm asked, 'what's the one thing I can be doing to maximize to get a job and keep a job?' I always tell them to practice their writing. You can never practice enough."

Brown highlighted the importance of members of the bench remaining impartial, especially when a ruling by the court does not reflect their personal beliefs.

"We are bound by precedent and I can certainly think of situations where a finding of the court didn't make me happy," Brown said. "But the law is what the law is. When you take that oath, that's what you sign up for. Justice Scalia said, 'If you agree with every opinion you write, you're not doing your job.'"

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