Students from Tyler Junior College and local high schools heard oral arguments presented to the 12th Court of Appeals on Tuesday as part of the Smith County Bar Foundation’s annual Constitution Day event at the college’s main campus.
Constitution Day is a federal holiday celebrating the U.S. Constitution, which was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. Tuesday’s event was designed to give students a chance to learn about the judicial appeal process.
The court, consisting of Chief Justice James T. Worthen, Justice Brian Hoyle and Justice Greg Neeley, heard two appeal cases in one of the college’s rooms.
The court hears cases across Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson, Houston, Nacogdoches, Rains, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood counties.
Worthen began the program by acknowledging that the court system established by the Constitution helps settle legal disputes and is often the invisible branch of justice.
“Today, you are going to have an experience of a part of the justice system you never get to see,” Worthen said.
Worthen said the appeals court’s purpose is to determine if the law was properly applied, hear the arguments of counsel, and later give a written judgment after deliberations.
Chris Weaver, a TJC criminal justice major, enjoyed getting a real-world experience of the appellate court process.
“The judges coming here I think it’s cool. I’ve never been (to the court) before. For my first experience, it’s been good. I like hearing the debate like a friendly argument,” Weaver said.
In Texas, the process of justice goes from one judge at a criminal trial, three within the local court of appeals system and nine judges in the Texas Supreme Court, Worthen said. The highest court for criminal cases in the state, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, also has nine judges.
“The losing party in the state of Texas has a right to appeal,” he said.
The first case was a right-to-carry and Second Amendment case. In 2017, the appellant, Martin Reynolds Jr., was indicted by a Smith County grand jury for murder in the shooting death of Andrew Carpenter.
Reynolds and Carpenter got into an argument on the phone. In an in-person confrontation, Carpenter shot Reynolds in the leg, then Reynolds shot Carpenter twice, according to the arrest affidavit.
Reynolds is petitioning to challenge the constitutionality of being in custody and his right to self-defense.He remains in jail awaiting trial.
The second dealt with an American Midstream Gas Solutions pipeline that may have led to the death of a Rusk County rancher’s cattle. A pipeline underground the ranch may have leaked on three occasions.
Cows within the area of the alleged leaks died and exposure to the leak was assumed to be the cause of death. The Hall family sued the pipeline company and a jury found American Midstream Gas Solutions to be negligent and the actions proximately caused the cattle’s death. The company is now appealing the decision.
Only 1 to 2% of the cases heard in the 12th Court of Appeals are reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court, Worthen said.