Bright and early in New Orleans this morning, in the West Courtroom, two teams of attorneys will be arguing a Central Texas case before a three-judge panel from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The judges will decide an appeal of a civil lawsuit filed by the family of a Navy veteran who was shot and killed by a Bell County Sheriff’s Department deputy just over three years ago.
Lyle P. Blanchard, 59, was pulled over in Harker Heights on Aug. 30, 2016, and was shot four times. The deputy said he thought Blanchard was reaching for a gun in his cargo shorts. The Navy veteran turned out to be unarmed and the family sued the deputy and the sheriff’s department, alleging the deputy used excessive force. A Bell County grand jury declined to indict the deputy on criminal charges.
The lawsuit was dismissed last year, by a second judge, and since has found its way to a Crescent City courtroom.
Blanchard’s siblings enlisted the help of Tulane University Law School’s Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic, which will have two, last-year law students arguing at the podium today. The sheriff’s department is represented by Seth Dennis from the Texas Attorney General’s Office and Waco attorneys Joe Rivera and John T. Hawkins.
Only a narrow part of the case will be heard on Wednesday, but if the Blanchard family wins it could open the case to be heard in court again, said Sam Brandao, clinical instructor at the law school’s civil rights clinic.
“The issue is whether the district court made a mistake when it dismissed its case at the first real test that a lawsuit faces, when there is a motion to dismiss,” he said Friday. “The trial judge granted that motion and dismissed the case. We think that motion should have been denied because our position is that the complaint alleged enough facts to be a violation of excessive force.”
Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart and Judges Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale and Gregg J. Costa make up the panel that will hear the case, according to court documents. The court is so strict that the names of panel members are not released until a week before the hearing, according to the clerk’s office at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
It can take up to 60 days for the panel to issue its opinion, according to the clerk’s office.
“Each side generally has 20 minutes of argument time, for a total of 40 minutes of argument time per case,” according to the court’s website.