San Antonio – Live video webcasts of oral arguments before the Supreme Court of Texas will be available to the public for the first time in history through an innovative collaboration between the court and St. Mary’s University.
Beginning when the Supreme Court convenes March 20, anyone with access to a computer can listen and view the court’s live proceedings via the St. Mary’s University School of Law website. Those Internet transmissions will be recorded and stored on the law school’s Web site for public access. St. Mary’s is one of only a few universities nationwide to provide such public access to a state supreme court.
“Providing remote public access to the proceedings of the Supreme Court of Texas will be not only a valuable teaching tool for our students, it speaks directly to the mission of the University by opening a window into our legal system for the citizens of Texas,” said Charles L. Cotrell, Ph.D., St. Mary’s University president. “It is the goal of St. Mary’s School of Law to graduate students with the education and training to become skilled legal practitioners and the foundation in faith and ethics to dedicate themselves to the common good of society.”
“This represents not only a great service to lawyers around Texas, but an educational opportunity for law students, colleges, high schools and the public at large,” said Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson. “Broadcasting these arguments over the Web will enable anyone, anywhere to see how an appellate court grapples with some of the toughest legal issues our state confronts.
“We will shed light about how the Supreme Court decides its cases, whether to counter the misimpression that an appellate argument is like Perry Mason in front of nine judges or to dispel myths about how justices on the Court decide cases,” Jefferson added.
The initiative began with a proposal by the law school to allow the court to take advantage of St. Mary’s role in providing high-tech connections and training for its students. St. Mary’s recently completed a $1.6 million renovation of its own courtroom, which incorporates state-of-the-art equipment and technology.
Under the agreement between the law school and the Office of Court Administration, St. Mary’s supplied the court with equipment including cameras, audio controls and video capture recorders, as well as the personnel to record and monitor the live streaming over the Internet.
“We are honored that the court is allowing us to assist in making these important proceedings accessible to the public,” said Bill Piatt, dean of the law school. “The court’s initiative in bringing oral arguments to the people will greatly improve the understanding of the work of the court, thereby enhancing the administration of justice in this state.”
The project required changes in lighting to the courtroom in Austin, including adding five cameras to the walls and converting a nearby office into a control center. While the preservation of the historical dignity, feel and look of the courtroom were paramount, consideration of security and potential privacy issues also were addressed in refurbishing the courtroom.
The schedule of arguments for a particular session, including a brief description of the parties and issues involved, also will be available on the St. Mary’s School of Law Web site. The Supreme Court usually holds three days of oral arguments each month. On each day of arguments, the court typically hears three cases, each of which takes about an hour.