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Baylor Law Students Go To D.C. To Watch U.S. Supreme Court Arguments

Jan. 16, 2013

Six Baylor Law School students are having the experience of a lifetime this week as they personally get to see the U.S. Supreme Court in action.

Their trip to Washington, D.C., came about through a series of good deeds and good luck. Helping all the pieces fall into place was Professor Rory Ryan.

It all started when Ryan noticed that the lawyer arguing a case involving a question of federal jurisdiction -- Ryan's area of expertise -- was someone he knew. He contacted the attorney and told her he was interested in filing an amicus brief and hosting a mock argument on the issue at Baylor Law School.

"Once I decided to participate as an amicas on the case, I decided to go to D.C. to watch the Supreme Court argument," Ryan said. "I thought it would be fun to auction off what I thought would be limited to one ticket. I planned to just buy a commercial airline ticket and hotel room for a student and we would fly up to watch the argument together."

The auction was part of Phi Alpha Delta's annual professor auction in December to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA.

That's when more good luck kicked in. Brian D. Pardo is CEO of Waco-based Life Partners and Life Partners Holding Inc., which provides secondary markets for life insurance. When Pardo, a supporter of many charities, heard about Ryan's plan he generously volunteered his private jet for the trip.

"That obviously allowed me to include far more people on the trip when I didn't have to buy them airline tickets," Ryan said. "And so we auctioned off a package of six tickets to attend this argument."

The Supreme Court heard the arguments on Jan. 16.

But this wouldn't be just a trip to observe. The students, Ryan said, now had the opportunity to see a case "actually in its formative stages, all the way from the briefing to the mock argument and then debriefing with the lawyers, and then seeing the opinion come down."

The students observed the mock argument involving the lawyer who would be arguing before the Supreme Court. She practiced her arguments before a panel comprised of Judge Ken Starr, Baylor Law School Dean Brad Toben, Professor Brian Serr, Associate Professor Luke Meier, Assistant Professor Jill Wieber Lens, and attorney Elizabeth Ryan.

The case, Gunn v. Minton, involves a claim of attorney malpractice that stemmed from a patent litigation matter. Federal courts have jurisdiction over patent matters, but the question to be settled is whether the malpractice claim belongs in the state or federal courts.

"When the students picked up those briefs for the first time, they learned what it's like to be in a position of the court, and to know nothing about a matter, and to be educated solely by the written document that lands on your desk," Ryan said. "What frustrated them about the briefing process and what enlightened them will help teach them how to write better for other people who don't know anything about their case, who haven't been living the case for two or three years."

While the legal aspects of the argument certainly will be enlightening for the students, Ryan also is excited for the students as they experience the splendor of the Supreme Court in action.

"It is majestic," he said. "The whole court building, the whole experience is absolutely majestic. When the justices appear from behind the curtains -- it's not like being in any other courtroom for any other reason."

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