Sunday, 14 January 2007
January 14, 2007
High court cases a coup for UT law school
Capital Punishment Clinic teachers, students play role in death penalty
By Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman
When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes Wednesday to hear oral arguments in
three Texas death penalty cases, the audience will include abouta dozen
University of Texas law students who worked on the cases.
The students were part of last semester's Capital Punishment Clinic, and two
of their professors, Jordan Steiker and Rob Owen, will be arguing on behalf
of the Texas inmates.
The Supreme Court accepted the death row cases in October, giving the
students an unexpectedly intimate look at litigation at the highest levels
of the law. Many visited clients on death row, researched legal issues and
proofread briefs - basically grunt work, but U.S. Supreme Court grunt work.
"That's not a bad thing," law student Kim Gustafson said. "This was the
brief submitted that the justices will look at and consider prior to oral
Like Gustafson, Mary Beth Hickcox-Howard worked on the brief submitted on
behalf of inmate LaRoyce Smith.
"I'm a second-year student. This is the first opportunity I had to do
something that's actually practical," Hickcox-Howard said. "I wanted to do
something that had an impact on the real world at the same time I was doing
Students must apply to join the clinic, which is funded by the Law School,
and meet once a week for classroom instruction. Clinic participants also are
expected to devote about 10 hours a week to active death penalty cases at
all court levels.
"The clinic really treats them seriously as people who are going to be
handling serious cases in a short time," said Owen, who like Steiker is a
nationally recognized expert on death penalty constitutional law.
"It does teach them, I think, that law in the courts is really different
from the law in the lawbooks. It's essential for people to figure out, if
they want to be litigators, that much of what you need to know is not
written down anywhere. You can only learn it by going to court," Owen said.
"It's not always reassuring."
For Law School Dean Larry Sager, intent on making UT's one of the nation's
premier law schools, having three clinic cases accepted by the Supreme Court
was reason to celebrate. The school is paying to send the 12 clinic students
to Washington for oral arguments.
"It seemed only fair that they have the opportunity to see the fruits of
their work, and it's a very important part of the education process," he
"It's very remarkable," Sager said. "It also speaks well of the tremendous
talent of the students and the faculty. You can imagine - I'm radiantly
happy about these events."
Source : Austin American-Statesman