Jim Sales Presenting Emily Jones with the Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award
What cause can gather some of the most successful lawyers in the state, all of the members of the Supreme Court of Texas, and dozens of judges, elected officials, and past presidents of the State Bar of Texas in the same room at the same time? Legal services to the poor!
Last night, I attended the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Gala. The evening was magical, not because of the fancy dinner, keynote speaker Jeffrey Toobin, or the preparation that enabled a flawless event. The evening was magical because of the presence of the true champions of Texas’ legal community - those who tirelessly give their energy, time, and resources to provide access to justice for low-income Texans. Most important, the event raised more than $300,000 for civil legal services to the poor.
When you work at the State Bar of Texas, you quickly learn that one of the most respected volunteers is James B. Sales of Houston. Everyone refers to Jim Sales as Mr. Sales, because his military background coupled with his strong presence, command ultimate respect. He is widely admired for his tireless service to the Access to Justice Commission, which he served as chair from 2004 to 2009. Mr. Sales received the 2009 Harold F. Kleinman Award, an award named after the first Access to Justice Foundation chairman and established to confer prestige and honor upon leaders who advocate for access to justice. A well-deserved recipient indeed! Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson shared an anecdote from the Court. When the Court approached Mr. Sales to be Chair of the Access to Justice Commission, he looked every justice in the eye and asked for their commitment before he would agree to take the position. Every justice looked Mr. Sales back in the eye and said, “Yes, sir.” Since 2004, Mr. Sales has encouraged Texas lawyers to “put their boots on the ground” to fight for access to justice. He has increased funding, recruited numerous volunteers, and put into place a solid infrastructure that will continue to grow in years to come.
Emily Jones, the first executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, is known for her strong spirit, feisty personality, and her ability to be a strong advocate for access to justice initiatives. No one is a better advocate than Emily, for she knows the facts, the cause is instilled in her heart, she is smart, and her actions speak louder than her words. As Mr. Sales honored Emily with the inaugural Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award, he shared examples of Emily taking on pro bono cases despite personal health obstacles that would have prohibited most from doing so. There were few dry eyes in the room as Emily accepted her namesake award, which will be used to recognize lawyers like her who have an extraordinary spirit, have demonstrated a strong commitment to legal services in Texas, and have inspired others. (Side note: Even after working with Jim Sales every day for years, Emily still refers to her friend as Mr. Sales.)
Three Texas attorneys were recognized for their significant contribution to the Cy Pres Awards Campaign. The cy pres awards are residual funds from class action settlements that were not claimed by class members, so responsible attorneys donate the funds to bolster legal services to the poor. Jeff Rasansky of Dallas, Michael E. Smith of Marshall, and Jeremi K. Young of Amarillo donated $230,160 of residual funds from a federal case to the Access to Justice Foundation. This was the first major donation to the fund.
The heroes mentioned in this post have truly made a difference in the lives of low-income Texans, but much remains to be done. Consider the following statistics:
- Today, 5.1 million Texans qualify for legal aid.
- There is one legal aid lawyer for every 11,512 Texans who qualify for legal aid.
- Legal aid turns away half of all qualified clients due to lack of resources.
Hopefully these facts will encourage you to put your boots on the ground!