October 21, 2013

Texas Supreme Court To Hold Session At Texas A&M Nov. 7

The Texas Supreme Court will venture outside of Austin Nov. 7 when it convenes at Texas A&M University to hear oral arguments in two cases that are on appeal from courts in El Paso and Houston.

The 9 a.m. to noon session by the nine-member court in Rudder Theatre will be open to the public, but free tickets must be obtained in advance at Texas A&M’s Memorial Student Center Box Office on the ground floor of Rudder Tower.

The Supreme Court has conducted oral arguments in all corners of Texas twice a year since voters amended the state Constitution in 1998 to allow the Court to sit outside Austin. “We consider these ‘road trips’ great opportunities for Texans to see the Court’s work live and what oral argument is,” Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said. “But equally important, justices value the chance to visit with students to explain what we do – what the argument means, why it’s important.”

This first-of-its-type program is presented by the Office of the Provost and the College of Architecture.

Provost Karan Watson said “hosting the Supreme Court of Texas on our campus is a great opportunity to remind students, faculty and the community of the role education and the court system play in strengthening our democracy.

The cases to be argued are “Highland Homes Ltd. v. State of Texas,” from Bexar County and the El Paso Court of Appeals (Case #12-0604) and “In re John Doe” from Harris County and Houston’s First Court of Appeals (Case #13-0073).

In the Bexar County case, the dispute over unclaimed settlement proceeds from a class-action settlement. The principal issues are (1) whether the court has jurisdiction when Highland Homes, the sole petitioner, has expressly disclaimed interest in the unclaimed money; (2) whether identified but non-participating class members have a property right in the settlement money; and (3) whether an agreement to distribute unclaimed money to a non-profit (the Nature Conservancy) improperly circumvents statutory abandoned-property provisions.

The issues in the Harris County case, involving an effort to prevent discovery of an anonymous blogger’s identity, are (1) whether Texas court rules governing discovery before a lawsuit is filed means that the trial court must have “personal jurisdiction” over the “John Doe” defendant – that is, the authority to hear a case against a person only after he has been served with papers notifying him of a suit – before his identity may be discovered; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion by determining that the anticipated defamation and business-disparagement suit can be tried in Harris County courts when the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the anonymous blogger; and (3) whether the court abused its discretion by ordering the blogger’s identify disclosed from Google, considering a First Amendment right to anonymous speech.

A 10-minute break is scheduled between oral arguments for the two cases. Following the conclusion of arguments in both cases, the justices have agreed to accept questions from the audience.

More information about the cases, including copies of the briefs for each case, is available at the Supreme Court website.

Security measures will be in effect, event planners note, meaning members of the audience are urged to arrive no later than 8:30 a.m. to allow for handbags, backpacks and other personal items to be checked before their owners’ entry into the courtroom. Doors will open at 8 a.m., the planners state.

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Media Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662

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