Baylor Law Students Win $5,000, Revive Trial Contest Tradition

  • News Photo 1897
    Finalists in The Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition, from left: Ben King, Ryan Thompson, Leslie Hunt, Kevin Koronka, Susan Whatley, Mike Russell, Carrie Carter and Ben Bratteli.
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    Ryan Thompson responds to the judge during The Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition, held Saturday in the Rex Houston Practice Court Classroom.
  • News Photo 1895
    Law student Ben King addresses jury members during The Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition.
April 21, 2004

by Alan Hunt

Four law students celebrated winning a $5,000 prize after a three-hour practice court trial on Saturday, April 17, and assisted in the revival of a Baylor Law School tradition.

Professor William D. Underwood, who directs Baylor Law School's nationally ranked Practice Court Program, said the trial marks the beginning of a new yearly contest designed to test students' courtroom skills.

Established through the generous sponsorship of Beaumont attorney and 1974 Baylor law graduate Robert Wortham and his wife, Karen, the program will be known as The Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition. Underwood said the new contest revives the tradition of the annual mini-trial competitions held during the Practice Court Program leadership of Professor Emeritus R. Matt Dawson, a 1938 Baylor law graduate and a legend among Texas lawyers. Dawson retired from the Baylor law faculty in 1983.

Presiding over Saturday's trial was Judge Rex D. Davis, former Chief Justice of the 10th Court of Appeals, and Waco attorneys Alan Nelson and Abel Reyna served as jury members. The hypothetical case argued by the students, which focused on a claim for damages resulting from an industrial accident, was held before a large audience in the Rex Houston Practice Court Classroom.

The winning team comprised student attorneys Carrie Carter and Ben King; Susan Whatley, who played the role of plaintiff; and witness Leslie Hunt. The runners-up were attorneys Ryan Thompson and Kevin Koronka, and witnesses Mike Russell and Ben Bratteli.

These two teams were the "survivors" from a field of 17 teams originally participating in the contest. The four students on each team swapped roles throughout the contest. The students who appeared as witnesses had been lawyers in earlier rounds, while the students who were the advocates in the final round had been witnesses is some of the earlier rounds.

Law Dean Brad Toben praised the support of Robert and Karen Wortham in sponsoring the new competition.

"It's this kind of generous assistance from our alumni that enables Baylor Law School to enjoy the reputation it has as one of the nation's leading trial advocacy schools," he said.

Baylor Law School's trial advocacy program recently was ranked seventh in the nation in U.S.News & World Report's "2005 Best Graduate School" list.

Wortham is an attorney with the Beaumont law firm of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn Inc. He previously worked at the District Attorney's Office, Jefferson County, 1974-75; State District Judge, 1980-1981; and U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Texas, 1981-1993. Among numerous professional awards he has received, Wortham was named Outstanding Young Lawyer for Jefferson County and in 1993 he received the Department of Justice Award for Outstanding Service.

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