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In Her Opinion

Thursday, October 31, 2019
Andrea Morris ’05 with Justice Beth Watkins.

Andrea Morris ’05 with Justice Beth Watkins.

First-gen grad interprets the law for Texas Fourth Court of Appeals

by Nicolette Good ’07

Andrea Morris ’05, a staff attorney with the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals, doesn’t look for drama, but the sensational stories seem to find her.

“I tend to get the most headlining cases on my desk,” says Morris, who graduated magna cum laude from Trinity University with her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology.  Many of the opinions she drafts for the court’s consideration touch on hot-button issues often seen sensationalized in the media.

“It’s Poli-Sci 101: We don’t make the law, we interpret the law,” says Morris, summarizing her work at an appellate court that oversees 32 counties, including Bexar County. “These opinions are important to the communities we oversee.”

Morris works as a staff attorney for Justice Beth Watkins. Every week, she and her fellow staff attorneys become experts on a small piece of law.

Morris recalls a dispute regarding a proposed park around San Antonio’s Hays Street Bridge, which was constructed in 1900. Unable to accommodate modern vehicle traffic, Hays Street Bridge closed in 1982. But in 2000, public restoration efforts began, and private development in the increasingly popular neighborhood ticked up soon after.

“The city and a nonprofit group were back-and-forth about [developing] the park,” recalls Morris, who earned her J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law. “Can they fight about this or not? We were the court that decided if that legal proceeding could happen.”

Morris’ immense institutional knowledge of the appellate court is a result of serving three appellate judges. Each, Morris says, were highly experienced practitioners in their private practices before taking the bench. Justice Watkins, whom Morris currently serves, was elected to the Fourth Court of Appeals in 2018 after representing clients in more than 200 appeals, including to the United States Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court.

“They have taught me so much,” says Morris about the three justices she has served. “At the same time, I bring another set of eyes from the judiciary standpoint to help them with their new role. I have a lot of institutional knowledge they can lean on and bring them up to speed after their election.”

Incidentally, all three justices have been female. 

“I love working in a district with a lot of female representation,” says Morris, who started at the court clerking for Chief Justice Alma L. López and Justice Marialyn Barnard. She later returned to serve as Barnard’s staff attorney.

The Fourth Court of Appeals is a national forerunner in terms of representation of women on the bench. When López was appointed to the state’s Fourth Court of Appeals in 1993, she became the first Hispanic woman on the court. Chief Justice López was also the highest-ranking justice on the first all-female appeals court in the United States.

“A lot of eyes from around the nation are on our appellate court,” Morris describes. 

The national spotlight gives Morris even more hometown pride. She grew up in Southeast San Antonio and graduated from East Central High School, near Calaveras Lake. Morris considered several liberal arts universities, including Austin College and St. Mary’s University, but Trinity was her No. 1 choice. 

“When I was accepted to Trinity, I thought, ‘Done’,” recalls Morris, who is the first person in her family to graduate from high school, college, and law school. 

At Trinity, Morris found her place with TUVAC as an undergrad: she frequently volunteered at the SAMM Shelter and took care of young children while their parents were taking job preparation classes or finishing a degree.

Humanities professor Arturo Madrid, Ph.D., introduced Morris to contemporary authors and artists coming out of San Antonio. Professors in the economics department, including Richard Butler, Ph.D., and Barry Hirsch, Ph.D., helped her begin to see the policy side of the law.

Sociology and anthropology professor David Spener, Ph.D., mentored Morris and influenced her pursuit of a legal profession.

“Dr. Spener is the one who helped me understand how people can make societal change,” she says.

And now, with the interdisciplinary perspective Trinity helped foster, Morris is equipped to look at the law at all angles in her career.

Nicolette Good graduated from Trinity University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Music. In addition to being a traditional writer she is a working singer/songwriter, as well as a staff musician for Home Street Music, a nonprofit using music to empower individuals who have experienced homelessness. You can reach her at nicolette.good [at] gmail.com.