SHSU Grad Builds Legal Legacy at UH-Clear Lake

SHSU Alumnus Dr. James Benson built a courtroom in a classroom at the University of Houston - Clear Lake.
SHSU Alumnus Dr. James Benson built a courtroom in a classroom at the University of Houston -- Clear Lake.

Dr. James C. Benson recently purchased the furniture from the old 400th District Courtroom in Fort Bend County and made it into a mock trial classroom for his legal studies students at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

It took $1,000 and six weeks of sawing and cutting to disassemble the courtroom fixtures and downsize it into a regular classroom. The courtroom will be used in mock trials for students in legal studies and in testing real life cases on student “focus groups” by lawyers who graduated from the program.

Dr. James C. Benson
Dr. James C. Benson
Dr. Benson, a 1977 SHSU Ph.D. graduate in Criminology and Corrections, founded the criminal justice program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and started a bachelor degree program there for state inmates from the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon. But he always held onto his love of the law, nurtured as a research assistant for SHSU’s Hazel Kerper, and he returned to law school after serving as Assistant Vice Chancellor and Provost at UH-Clear Lake.

“Dr. Kerper was a lawyer who was licensed to practice in multiple states,” said Dr. Benson, who also credited early faculty members like Drs. George Killinger, Wayland Pilcher and Rolando del Carmen with influencing his decision to go to law school. “I was her research assistant. Her love of the law had a big influence on me. I love legal procedure…I really had to scratch that itch, so I went to UH-Central Campus for my law degree.”

Dr. James Benson recently earned the Outstanding Professor Award.Dr. James Benson, third from right, earned the 2012 Outstanding Professor Award from UH-Clear Lake.Dr. Benson practiced law for 22 years in probate, guardianship and elder law, even appearing before the 400th District Court in jury trials. Now retired from legal practice and in his 35th year of teaching, his career has come full circle as he trains future lawyers or other students as Director of Legal Studies at UH-Clear Lake. He recently earned a 2012 Outstanding Professor Award at UH-Clear Lake as a result of nominations by his students, and he received many other accolades for his service, including the President’s Cabinet Philanthropy Award, the President’s Distinguished Service Award, and the President’s Cabinet Leadership Award.

“It’s an incredible honor after 35 years and certainly a high point of my career,” said Dr. Benson of the Outstanding Professor Award. “It comes from the students.”

Dr. Benson said he used everything he learned about criminal justice at SHSU and applied it in building the criminal justice program at UH – Clear Lake. The program is now flourishing under the School of Human Sciences and Humanities and offers master’s level classes.

Entry sign for UH-Clear Lake
University of Houston -- Clear Lake.
While Benson’s passion is criminal law, he pursued civil litigation after graduating from law school because of elder law issues facing his own family. He founded his own law firm, Benson & Anderson, and took great pride in legally chasing those that exploited or abused the elderly.

Dr. Benson created the Bachelor of Legal Studies at UH-Clear Lake in the School of Business to provide students with a basic understanding of the American legal system and concepts in civil litigation, trial by jury, mock trials, torts, probate, real estate, family law and dispute resolution.

“I think all citizens ought to know the first 30 hours of law school to stay out of trouble,” Dr. Benson said.

The 400th District Courtroom at UH-Clear Lake.
Dr. Benson practiced and teaches in the courtroom.
Dr. Benson built the mock trial courtroom to help bring the lessons home. He teamed up as co-counsel with attorney Paul Aman, who defends police officers falsely accused of crimes. Aman successfully defended a Bellaire police officer charged with shooting an unarmed man in this parent’s driveway. Many of Aman’s cases as well as graduates from the program who became lawyer, present their cases – minus the names and identifying facts -- to students as a “focus group” before they go to trial. Students then are offered the opportunity to see the real case at trial and compare their results to the jury’s.

“I try jury cases with former students,” said Dr. Benson. “That is the ultimate teaching experience.”

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