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LEARNING FROM TRIALS AND ERRORS

Judge Donna Roth

Harris County District Court Judge Donna Roth is not just a South Texas College of Law Houston alumna — class of '87. She is also the mother of an STCL Houston graduate and a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. She, and her daughter, regularly attend new student receptions. Additionally, Judge Roth volunteers her time to support Advocacy Program's moot court and mock trial teams.

Yet, giving our current students real-world experience as interns in her courtroom could be the most significant contribution to her alma mater. Since her election to the 295th District Court and assuming office in 2019, five STCL Houston students have completed an internship with Judge Roth.

During the 2021 summer, rising 3L Trevor Finster and incoming 1L Armon Mehrinfar each joined her staff. While she typically hires students who have completed their state procedure course, she met Armon when welcoming new students, resulting in a unique opportunity to intern before stepping foot in his first law school class. Trevor, who she hired through a more traditional process, will continue his work with her this fall.

While she doesn't hire STCL Houston students exclusively, she appreciates that the law school goes beyond GPAs and LSAT scores when recruiting new students. In a recent conversation, she shared her perspective on the profession regarding students and young attorneys.

On her priorities when hiring:
"I want someone who is really open to learning, someone who has research skills, someone who is going to be able to watch and learn."

On what she wants her interns to experience:
"How the court works, how hearings are won and lost, how to write a brief, because some of the best examples of how to write a brief are looking at a bad one. The importance of being nice to court staff."

On the value of working in a courtroom:
"The way we answered that all summer long was telling the interns, 'Did you see what he just did? That's what you're not supposed to do.' Some of them are just simple things like don't forget to stand when you address the court. Don't interrupt the judge. But one of the most important things you can gain by watching others is familiarity and comfort in the courtroom."

On preparing for a career in law:
"Find someone who you are comfortable with, that you can go to for questions and problems — a mentor who can listen to you and work out issues and problems with you. Also, if you want to be successful in this business, you have to want it. You have to really want to be a lawyer. People who think, 'Oh, I don't know what to do, so I'll go to law school, probably shouldn't go to law school.'"

INTRODUCING PROF. RYAN NELSON

 

A wide breadth of knowledge and an insightful approach to teaching: That’s what students can expect when Professor Ryan Nelson joins South Texas College of Law’s faculty this fall. Inside the lecture hall, he will teach Civil Procedure I and II. Outside, he will continue his scholarship in sexual orientation discrimination and promoting equality, especially within the workplace.

In fact, it was South Texas’ commitment to diversity that first drew him to Houston. After Nelson got the job offer from STCL Houston, the stars aligned quickly; Nelson’s husband received an offer at Texas Children’s Hospital, sealing the couple’s move from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast.

Despite his impressive experience, this fall will be the professor’s first opportunity to work with 1Ls. Nelson is eager to get started, seeing this as a chance to get in on the ground floor and mold educational paths from the very first day of law school. However, Nelson doesn’t expect to simply teach those first year students. Two of his favorite law school professors showed him “the importance of humility and recognizing that even they didn’t know everything.”

Instead of lecturing, he envisions his role as a discussion leader, first getting on his students’ level in order to leverage his experience and help guide them. He says, “Let’s figure out the law together. That’s an important part of my process in working with my students.” And Nelson can’t think of any better course than Civil Procedure to validate that process. He sees Civil Procedure I and II as practical, realistic courses that will help STCL Houston students in the real world after graduation, and notes that only the best lawyers know how to leverage civil procedure and maximize their ability to represent clients.

That sentiment ties directly into a second characteristic that attracted the professor to South Texas: the school’s commitment to creating practice-ready students. “It’s important to show students how to marry scholarship with practice, and that creativity isn't just a classroom tool. You can dream up new, exciting ways to leverage the law in order to support clients AND make positive change in the world,” he says.

Making positive change is something with which Nelson is quite familiar. He’s currently researching the moral hazards of Workplace Harassment Law, hoping to disincentivize would-be harassers and tear down company policies that protect and encourage abusers. The professor’s extracurricular activities also include work with the nonprofit organization One Fair Wage and the National LGBT Bar Association. Nelson’s collaboration with One Fair Wage first developed out of an article he was writing about restaurant worker wages. After connecting with president Saru Jayaraman, Nelson realized the potential of the pair teaming up to fight for fair wages for restaurant workers. Working alongside the National Legal Advocacy Network and Gerstein Harrow LLP, they filed a lawsuit against Darden Restaurants this past spring, hoping to combat inequitable take-home wages among restaurant employees, especially those caused by race-based tipping disparities.

As for The National LGBT Bar Association, Nelson praised the opportunities he and other attorneys have received in connecting with LGBT+ attorneys and allies, saying “They’ve helped more than any other organization to invigorate my thinking on LGBT+ issues.” That’s especially the case when it comes to distinguishing between fighting for formal equality and substantive equality for members of the LGBT+ community. Regarding formal equality, Nelson sees a lot of promise for equal treatment under the law in the future. Substantive equality, however, is an issue he believes is far from a lasting resolution. He points to gender biases in healthcare, as well as equitable employer policies that need to support LGBT+ couples with the same types of perks as heterosexual couples, as examples.

Prior to joining STCL Houston, Nelson’s resume includes a research fellowship with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. He also has adjunct faculty experience at Boston University School of Law, New England Law Boston, and New York Law School.

30 YEARS OF LGBT ADVOCACY

Mitchell Katine with pride flags

When Mitchell Katine ’85 decided to attend law school, he did not have a particular career path in mind. Katine, the son of a court reporter, studied mass communication as an undergraduate and was more interested in knowledge than vocation.

“At that time, mine was not really a practical position,” he said. “I just enjoyed learning; studying law was fun and challenging, but I wasn’t sure I’d make a life out of it.”

Nevertheless, Katine’s passion for learning earned him impressive marks in law school. He graduated fourth in his class, a distinction that landed him job interviews with several major firms.

“I didn’t land any of those jobs, however,” Katine said. “I was too honest in my interviews. When they asked what kind of law I wanted to practice, I told them I genuinely had no idea!”

Katine did eventually land a job and he has since built a successful career in real estate law. However, he found his true calling in the cases he picked up as a volunteer.

In 1986, the HIV/AIDS epidemic reached the United States, leaving in its wake many sick, marginalized patients — most of them young, gay men like Katine himself. While he personally did not face a diagnosis, he witnessed many of his friends fall ill and take on the insurmountable task of planning their own funerals. It was a grim situation caused by a disease mysterious to both the medical community and the public at large. The epidemic also created an uncharted legal landscape.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not pass until 1992; until that point, HIV/AIDS patients had little protection from employment termination, eviction, health and life insurance revocation, or denial of medical treatment. Katine took on these cases, helping dozens of clients protect their families and live out their final days with dignity. He also educated the public through seminars and workshops, many of which he hosted at STCL Houston.

His dedication to this work earned Katine a reputation as a champion for marginalized individuals, and in 1998 when a civil rights case involving LGBT clients arose in Harris County, he received the call to represent them.

Responding to a reported disturbance at John Lawrence’s apartment, police allegedly witnessed Lawrence and Tyron Garner engaging in a private, consensual sexual act. They arrested the two men and charged them with violating a Texas law that forbade same sex persons to engage in intimate sexual conduct. Katine and Lambda Legal, a national legal organization dedicated to LGBT advocacy, took on the case. A five-year legal battle ensued, rising from the county criminal court up to the Supreme Court, which reached its decision in June 2003.

Katine was in his office at Williams Birnberg & Andersen, surrounded by news cameras, when his colleagues called from Washington, D.C. to deliver the verdict. The court had ruled in their favor, reversing its original 1986 opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick, and concluding that the Texas statute violated the due process clause. Since then, Lawrence v. Texas has set precedence for several civil rights cases; Justice Anthony Kennedy even referred to the case in his majority opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges, which established marriage rights for same-sex couples. In a full-circle moment, Katine and his husband Walter Avila were married four years later.

“It’s an honor to have played a role in such an impactful case as Lawrence v. Texas,” Katine said. “My work with HIV/AIDs patients was equally, if not more, rewarding because we were helping people for whom we often were the last hope. I have two kids now, and I’m most grateful to look back on some difficult times and be able to say honestly, ‘I did what I could when others couldn’t or wouldn’t.’”

Today, Katine is a partner at Katine Nechman McLaurin LLP, where he represents diverse clients in complex legal areas with a focus in real estate litigation, estate planning, and human resources matters. He and his law partner, John Nechman ‘95 continue to advocate for marginalized and underserved individuals through LGBT family law cases and a robust immigration law practice.

Organization Blog
LEARNING FROM TRIALS AND ERRORS

Judge Donna Roth

Harris County District Court Judge Donna Roth is not just a South Texas College of Law Houston alumna — class of '87. She is also the mother of an STCL Houston graduate and a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. She, and her daughter, regularly attend new student receptions. Additionally, Judge Roth volunteers her time to support Advocacy Program's moot court and mock trial teams.

Yet, giving our current students real-world experience as interns in her courtroom could be the most significant contribution to her alma mater. Since her election to the 295th District Court and assuming office in 2019, five STCL Houston students have completed an internship with Judge Roth.

During the 2021 summer, rising 3L Trevor Finster and incoming 1L Armon Mehrinfar each joined her staff. While she typically hires students who have completed their state procedure course, she met Armon when welcoming new students, resulting in a unique opportunity to intern before stepping foot in his first law school class. Trevor, who she hired through a more traditional process, will continue his work with her this fall.

While she doesn't hire STCL Houston students exclusively, she appreciates that the law school goes beyond GPAs and LSAT scores when recruiting new students. In a recent conversation, she shared her perspective on the profession regarding students and young attorneys.

On her priorities when hiring:
"I want someone who is really open to learning, someone who has research skills, someone who is going to be able to watch and learn."

On what she wants her interns to experience:
"How the court works, how hearings are won and lost, how to write a brief, because some of the best examples of how to write a brief are looking at a bad one. The importance of being nice to court staff."

On the value of working in a courtroom:
"The way we answered that all summer long was telling the interns, 'Did you see what he just did? That's what you're not supposed to do.' Some of them are just simple things like don't forget to stand when you address the court. Don't interrupt the judge. But one of the most important things you can gain by watching others is familiarity and comfort in the courtroom."

On preparing for a career in law:
"Find someone who you are comfortable with, that you can go to for questions and problems — a mentor who can listen to you and work out issues and problems with you. Also, if you want to be successful in this business, you have to want it. You have to really want to be a lawyer. People who think, 'Oh, I don't know what to do, so I'll go to law school, probably shouldn't go to law school.'"


Monday, December 6, 2021 3:01:00 PM

INTRODUCING PROF. RYAN NELSON

 

A wide breadth of knowledge and an insightful approach to teaching: That’s what students can expect when Professor Ryan Nelson joins South Texas College of Law’s faculty this fall. Inside the lecture hall, he will teach Civil Procedure I and II. Outside, he will continue his scholarship in sexual orientation discrimination and promoting equality, especially within the workplace.

In fact, it was South Texas’ commitment to diversity that first drew him to Houston. After Nelson got the job offer from STCL Houston, the stars aligned quickly; Nelson’s husband received an offer at Texas Children’s Hospital, sealing the couple’s move from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast.

Despite his impressive experience, this fall will be the professor’s first opportunity to work with 1Ls. Nelson is eager to get started, seeing this as a chance to get in on the ground floor and mold educational paths from the very first day of law school. However, Nelson doesn’t expect to simply teach those first year students. Two of his favorite law school professors showed him “the importance of humility and recognizing that even they didn’t know everything.”

Instead of lecturing, he envisions his role as a discussion leader, first getting on his students’ level in order to leverage his experience and help guide them. He says, “Let’s figure out the law together. That’s an important part of my process in working with my students.” And Nelson can’t think of any better course than Civil Procedure to validate that process. He sees Civil Procedure I and II as practical, realistic courses that will help STCL Houston students in the real world after graduation, and notes that only the best lawyers know how to leverage civil procedure and maximize their ability to represent clients.

That sentiment ties directly into a second characteristic that attracted the professor to South Texas: the school’s commitment to creating practice-ready students. “It’s important to show students how to marry scholarship with practice, and that creativity isn't just a classroom tool. You can dream up new, exciting ways to leverage the law in order to support clients AND make positive change in the world,” he says.

Making positive change is something with which Nelson is quite familiar. He’s currently researching the moral hazards of Workplace Harassment Law, hoping to disincentivize would-be harassers and tear down company policies that protect and encourage abusers. The professor’s extracurricular activities also include work with the nonprofit organization One Fair Wage and the National LGBT Bar Association. Nelson’s collaboration with One Fair Wage first developed out of an article he was writing about restaurant worker wages. After connecting with president Saru Jayaraman, Nelson realized the potential of the pair teaming up to fight for fair wages for restaurant workers. Working alongside the National Legal Advocacy Network and Gerstein Harrow LLP, they filed a lawsuit against Darden Restaurants this past spring, hoping to combat inequitable take-home wages among restaurant employees, especially those caused by race-based tipping disparities.

As for The National LGBT Bar Association, Nelson praised the opportunities he and other attorneys have received in connecting with LGBT+ attorneys and allies, saying “They’ve helped more than any other organization to invigorate my thinking on LGBT+ issues.” That’s especially the case when it comes to distinguishing between fighting for formal equality and substantive equality for members of the LGBT+ community. Regarding formal equality, Nelson sees a lot of promise for equal treatment under the law in the future. Substantive equality, however, is an issue he believes is far from a lasting resolution. He points to gender biases in healthcare, as well as equitable employer policies that need to support LGBT+ couples with the same types of perks as heterosexual couples, as examples.

Prior to joining STCL Houston, Nelson’s resume includes a research fellowship with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. He also has adjunct faculty experience at Boston University School of Law, New England Law Boston, and New York Law School.


Monday, December 6, 2021 2:32:00 PM