Foundation celebrates pro bono week, honors legal aid advocates

Texas access to justice leaders marked the start of the weeklong National Pro Bono Celebration on Monday with tributes and awards to attorneys, legislators, and organizations that make legal aid a central part of their work.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation presented the awards during a luncheon with the Texas Supreme Court in Austin. The event coincides with national pro bono week (Oct. 19-25), an American Bar Association initiative to highlight the need to protect and expand access to justice through volunteer civil legal services.

Attorneys provide more than 2 million hours of free legal or indirect services to low-income Texans each year, the equivalent of about $500 million, according to the University of North Texas Survey Research Center. But for every 11,000 Texans who qualify for legal aid, there is only one legal aid lawyer, according to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The luncheon honored those who are working to address that need.

Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, who returned to private practice in 2013, received an inaugural award named in his honor.

Jefferson, a vocal advocate for pro bono, designated funds remaining in his officeholder account for access to justice, said Justice Eva Guzman, the court’s access to justice liaison. In presenting the award to Jefferson, Guzman announced the creation of the Legacy Challenge: Reserves to Preserve Justice campaign, which will encourage other public officials to designate funds left in their officeholder accounts to benefit pro bono efforts.

Other award winners appear below.

  • Former Sen. Robert Duncan and Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sarah Davis received Legislative Hero Awards for their work in the Texas Legislature to advance access to justice.
  • The State Bar of Texas received the Harold F. Kleinman Award for its work in helping to create the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and its continued support of access to justice efforts. State Bar President Trey Apffel, President-elect Allan DuBois, and Executive Director Michelle Hunter accepted the award.
  • The State Bar’s Construction Law Section received the Access to Justice Award for its continued financial support. Since 2007, the section has donated $245,000 to the foundation to support civil legal services.
  • Independent Bank, PlainsCapital Bank, and Preston State Bank received the Prime Partners in Justice Award for being prime partner banks who provide extraordinary interest rates through the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program.

The luncheon also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the state’s leading funder of legal aid. The Supreme Court created the foundation in 1984 to administer the then-new IOLTA program. Since that time, the foundation has awarded more than $410 million in grants to organizations throughout the state that provide civil legal aid to the poor.

In a keynote speech, Austin attorney William O. Whitehurst, who served as State Bar president in 1986-1987, praised the court and the foundation for creating a national model for supporting access to justice: “It has led the way for us all and has done it hands-on.”

Pictured: Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, right, accepts the inaugural Wallace B. Jefferson Award from Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht and Justice Eva Guzman on Monday during a Texas Access to Justice Foundation luncheon in Austin.

Justice Guzman appointed new Texas Supreme Court liaison to Texas Access to Justice Commission, Foundation

Justice Eva M. Guzman has been appointed liaison to the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the foundation that supports the commission’s work to provide civil legal services to the poor. Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, who had been liaison to the commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation since 2010, announced Justice Guzman’s new assignment. Her appointment took effect July 1.

“I found in taking responsibility for access-to-justice issues that you must be a champion for them, in public, in the Legislature, in Washington, and among Texas lawyers,” Hecht said in a statement. “I believe we have found that champion in Justice Guzman. As a practitioner and as a trial judge, she confronted the real need of people who require legal help but in far too many cases cannot afford it.”

The Court created the Access to Justice Commission in 2001 to coordinate legal-aid provision in the state. The foundation was created in 1984.

For more information, visit http://www.texasatj.org/. Read the full press release.

Family Eldercare's Larson honored with 2014 Boots on the Ground Award

Austin attorney Christine P. “Chris” Larson is the 2014 recipient of the James B. Sales Boots on the Ground Award. 

The annual award, which recognizes exemplary pro bono or legal services program attorneys, was presented May 13 in Austin during the 2014 Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans. The Texas Access to Justice Commission hosts the event, which is cosponsored by the State Bar of Texas. 

“I’m obviously honored by this award and grateful that the commission values all that is involved in working with a population that cannot speak for itself,” said Larson, the director of guardianship estate services at Austin’s Family Eldercare, which provides essential services to seniors, adults with disabilities, and caregivers. “I love what I do and the clients I have the opportunity to advocate for. I work with an incredible group of people at Family Eldercare who are just as passionate as I am for the work we do.” 

Larson oversees the organization’s estate services program, which provides legal protections to indigent, severely disabled, ill, or cognitively impaired individuals who are not able to meet their own financial, medical, and legal affairs and do not have family or friends to take on that role. Under her leadership, the program has grown substantially, added staff, and is able to serve dozens of additional low-income clients.

Larson began her career as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Central Texas, where she worked primarily on family law, domestic violence, and custody cases representing low-income families and senior citizens. Being in private practice for more than 20 years allowed her to specialize in estate planning, probate, guardianship, elder law, and family law, and she also served as an attorney ad litem in legal aid cases.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and its co-sponsor, the State Bar of Texas, honored veterans throughout the state at the gala, which raised $348,450. Proceeds will be distributed by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and dedicated to the provision of civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans. These services assist in addressing legal issues related to marital problems, difficulties in getting medical or disability benefits, wrongful foreclosures, and other situations that may arise due to a veteran’s absence during military service. 

Dallas attorney to receive professionalism award

Dallas attorney John G. Browning has been named the winner of the 2013 Jim Bowmer Professionalism Award, presented by the College of the State Bar of Texas, his firm announced.

The announcement came just days after Browning, a member of the Texas Bar Journal Board of Editors, learned he would receive a 2014 Burton Award for Distinguished Achievement in Legal Writing

Browning will receive the Bowmer award this summer, and the College will make a $1,000 contribution in his name to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

 

Given each year since 1994, the Bowmer award recognizes a Texas lawyer and College member whose contributions to professionalism have furthered the College’s goals, elevated the prestige of the legal profession, promoted legal ethics, furthered lawyers’ continuing education, and served as an example to others. The award bears the name of Jim D. Bowmer of Temple, a co-founder of the College.

Browning was a unanimous selection by the College’s Awards Committee on the basis of his extensive writing, speaking, and work as a bar leader and volunteer in the areas of professionalism and legal ethics, according to a news release from his firm.

In addition to writing on ethics topics in scholarly law reviews, Browning frequently writes for practitioner-oriented publications and is a frequent speaker and author for continuing legal education courses. He is the current co-chair of the Dallas Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and will be a featured speaker at the American Bar Association National Conference on Professional Responsibility as well as the International Legal Ethics Conference in London.

 

Access to Justice Foundation celebrates 30 years of service

Catherine Robb
Catherine Robb, of counsel to Haynes and Boone and granddaughter of the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

On Jan. 23, guests gathered inside the 10th Floor Atrium of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, away from the incoming ice storm, to hear a distinguished group of panelists discuss the history and importance of access to justice. This event kicked off the 30th anniversary celebration of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and was co-sponsored by Legal Services Corporation, LBJ Future Forum, and the State Bar of Texas. The panel was followed by a reception and presentation of awards.

David Smith, chair of the LBJ Library Future Forum, and Catherine Robb, of counsel to the Austin office of Haynes and Boone and granddaughter of the late President Johnson, welcomed the guests to the event, followed by an introduction by Lamont Jefferson, the chair of TAJF’s 30th anniversary events and brother of former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Elizabeth Christian of Elizabeth Christian & Associates Public Relations moderated the panel, which featured Rep. Pete Gallego of the 23rd District of Texas, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Panelists discussed, among other issues, the importance of lawyers in rural towns, the economic recession’s impact on Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts Program, and the important role that law schools can play in encouraging increased access to legal services for underserved populations.

Awards were then presented to William O. Whitehurst, who received the Kleinmann Award; Rep. Sarah Davis of the 134th District of Texas, who received the Legislative Hero Award; and Christopher V. Bacon, Sally Crawford, Bruce Moseley, Eduardo V. Rodriguez, Jane Shin, and Richard Tate, who all received the Pro Bono Award.

RSVP to Texas Access to Justice Foundation's 30th Anniversary Kickoff Event

On Thursday, Jan. 23, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation will kick off the celebration of its 30th anniversary by hosting a panel discussion on the evolution of legal services in Texas. Distinguished members of the panel include U.S. Congressman Pete Gallego of the 23rd District of Texas, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. The event takes place from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. at the 10th Floor Atrium of the LBJ Presidential Library (2313 Red River St., Austin 78705). A reception will follow.

In 1984, the Texas Supreme Court created the nonprofit Texas Access to Justice Foundation to support legal aid efforts throughout the state. Using funding from the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Program, as well as public funding and private donations, TAJF gives millions of dollars each year to various organizations that provide pro bono legal services to low-income populations.    

If you would like to attend the panel discussion and reception, please RSVP by Jan. 15 by contacting Lisa Ayotte at layotte@teajf.org or (512) 320-099, ext. 102. For more information, go to teajf.org.  

Ferguson, Tottenham to Join Texas Access to Justice Foundation Board

Becky Baskin Ferguson of Midland and Terry O. Tottenham of Austin have been appointed to serve on the Texas Access to Justice Foundation Board of Directors, the foundation announced Wednesday.

Ferguson and Tottenham were appointed to three-year terms to the foundation, which provides grant funding for civil legal aid in Texas. The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors approved the appointments. 
 
Ferguson has spent more than 30 years in communications and public service in Midland. She recently served a three-year term as a public member on the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors and currently serves on the State Bar’s Advertising Review Committee.
 
Tottenham, of counsel to Norton Rose Fulbright, is certified in personal injury and civil trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. A former president of the State Bar of Texas, he initiated a statewide coalition of lawyers who provide pro bono services to needy veterans and their families.
 
Visit the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s website for more information on the appointments.

 

Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation announce possible remedies for the legal aid funding shortfall creating risks for low-income Texans and the state

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation hosted a news conference yesterday at the Texas State Capitol to emphasize the ongoing funding crisis in the Texas legal aid system. At the conference, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison to access to justice issues, announced a comprehensive legislative plan to address the funding crisis. In addition, a new economic impact study by The Perryman Group was announced.

Texas Legal Aid Funding

The continued rise in poverty, combined with a slow recovery of the national economy, has vastly increased the number of low-income Texans in need of free civil legal services. Currently, 5.7 million Texans qualify for legal aid for help with issues such as benefits for veterans, health care for the elderly, domestic violence and foreclosures.

Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) is a significant funding source for legal aid services in Texas, but those funds have decreased significantly due to historically low interest rates. IOLTA revenue for legal aid has dramatically declined from $20 million in 2007 to a projected $4.4 million for 2012. This decline in funding harmfully affects legal aid programs throughout the state.

“Helping struggling Texans with civil legal needs not only improves their lives and their families’ lives, it is a boost to the entire state as well,” Justice Hecht said. “Ensuring that Texans have access to justice allows them to be self-sufficient and ultimately lessens the need for taxpayer support.”

One legal aid lawyer is available for approximately every 11,512 Texans who qualify. To be eligible for legal aid, an individual must earn no more than $14,363 a year. For a family of four, the household income cannot exceed $29,438. 

Legislative Remedies Proposed

Several bills are expected to be filed this session that will help address the funding shortfall. The House and Senate budget bills (HB 1 and SB 1) as introduced include $13 million for legal aid in the Texas Supreme Court budget. The Texas Supreme Court requested an exceptional item that restores $4.6 million in general revenue back to the 2012-13 budget level of $17.5 million.

In addition, Senator Robert Duncan and Representative Senfronia Thompson have filed companion bills in the House and Senate (HB 1445 and SB 635) that would increase the funds dedicated to legal aid for indigent Texans from civil penalties and civil restitution recovered by the Attorney General. Senator John Carona is co-author of SB 635 and Representatives Sarah Davis, John Davis and Sylvester Turner are co-authors of HB 1445.

“The success of our civil justice system depends on the ability of all types of citizens to access our courts," Sen. Duncan said. "Civil legal aid provides significant services to veterans, women, children and the disabled and that is why I am proud to sponsor SB 635."

Rep. Senfronia Thompson noted, “Legal aid often means the difference between life and death, living in a home or on the streets, being self-sufficient or needing to rely on governmental agencies. HB 1445 is urgently needed to help address this critical funding shortfall.”

“Providing access to justice is a cornerstone of our democracy, and I am proud to play a leadership role in this effort,” Rep. Sarah Davis said. 

Findings from Economic Impact Report by The Perryman Group

A study to determine the economic impact of the legal aid delivery system in Texas was commissioned by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and findings were announced today. The study was conducted by Dr. Ray Perryman of The Perryman Group. 

The study examined the economic impact of legal aid currently being provided as well as the potential effect of expanding funding for legal aid. Currently, legal aid services lead to a sizeable stimulus to the Texas economy. The estimated gain in business activity equals an annual $722.4 million in spending, $346.9 million in output (total value of goods and services produced) and 4,528 jobs.

For every dollar spent in the state for indigent civil legal services, the overall annual gains to the economy are estimated at $7.48 in total spending, $3.59 in output (total value of goods and services produced) and $2.22 in personal income. This activity generates about $47.5 million in yearly fiscal revenues to state and local government entities.

There is a large unmet need for legal aid, and increased funding (and, thus assistance) would lead to further gains in business activity in addition to the other social benefits of more equitable access.

A copy of the full economic impact report from The Perryman Group is available at the Texas Access to Justice Foundation website.

Texas Access to Justice Foundation observes Prime Partner Bank Recognition Month and launches "I Bank on Justice" campaign

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation is recognizing banks and financial institutions that help invest in justice through the Texas Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program during Prime Partner Bank month in November. More than 70 banks and credit unions are committed to being Prime Partners and directly benefit the funding of civil legal services in Texas communities.

Prime Partner banks voluntarily pay higher interest rates on IOLTA accounts, helping close the gap in legal services funding. These banks have contributed millions of dollars in IOLTA revenue throughout Texas.

The Foundation recognizes the 13 banks that have participated in this program since its inception more than five years ago with the Prime Partners in Justice Award. They include:

Bank

First National Bank Southwest

Location(s)

Frisco, Plano

Huntington State Bank

Huntington, Lufkin, Nacogdoches

 

LegacyTexas Bank

Plano, Dallas, Fort Worth, and others

 

Lindale State Bank

Lindale

 

Lone Star National Bank

Pharr, Brownsville, Edinburg, McAllen, and others

 

NewFirst National Bank

El Campo, Houston, Victoria, and others

 

North Dallas Bank & Trust Co.

Dallas, Addison, Frisco, Plano, and others

 

Northstar Bank of Texas

Denton, Grapevine, Lewisville, and others

 

PlainsCapital Bank

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and others

 

Preston State Bank

Dallas

 

Security State Bank

Littlefield, Lubbock, Olton

 

Texas Brand Bank

Garland

 

Town North Bank

Dallas, Carrollton, Farmers Branch

 

The Foundation is also launching the “I Bank on Justice” campaign highlighting lawyers, firms, and bar associations investing in justice by banking at a Prime Partner Bank. Lawyers and organizations are encouraged to bank at Prime Partner Banks whose higher interest rates help provide assistance to Texas families seeking justice for an abused child, receiving health benefits for an elderly person, or getting a family back in their home when faced with a foreclosure or eviction.

More than 5.7 million Texans qualify for legal aid and many are turned away due to a lack of resources. The decline in IOLTA revenue has resulted in a crisis in access to the justice system for low-income and poor Texans.

The Supreme Court of Texas created the IOLTA program in 1984 as a means of providing funds for legal aid. For many years, the system worked as it was intended and played a major role in the funding of the state’s legal aid system. Due to the plunge in interest rates in 2008, the revenue generated from the program has plummeted. As a result, low-income Texans are forced to face serious, complicated, and sometimes life-threatening civil legal issues on their own. In 2007, IOLTA generated revenue in excess of $20 million; in 2012, it is projected to total only $4.4 million—a decline of more than 75 percent.

Special website and social media spotlights will be featured throughout the month at www.teajf.org and on Facebook.

 

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (www.teajf.org), created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the primary state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texans each year.

Texas Senator Kirk Watson to receive Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award

Senator Kirk Watson Named “Legislative Hero” for Improving Access to Justice to the More Than Six Million Texans Who Qualify for Legal Aid

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation will honor Senator Kirk Watson with the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award for his contributions to improving access to justice in Texas during a special presentation in Austin on Friday, December 16. Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison for access to justice issues, will present the award to Senator Watson.

Senator Watson has a long history of supporting civil legal aid issues, including efforts that led to an historic appropriation of funding in the 81st Legislature for civil legal services to poor Texans. Through his leadership efforts, Watson has helped improve access to justice for poor and low-income Texans.

“Senator Watson’s support in the Legislature helps many struggling Texans with basic civil legal services, such as benefits for veterans, foreclosures, health care for the elderly and domestic violence,” Justice Hecht said. “At a time of dwindling resources, we are grateful for the support as we continue to provide Texans in need access to justice.”

"I'm honored to receive this recognition from the Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation," said Senator Watson.  "For years, I've worked to assure legal services for the most vulnerable in our community.  We must do more to help them navigate the justice system.  I am proud to support this work in the Texas Senate."

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation launched the Legislative Hero Award program in 2010 to recognize legislators who, through their efforts, have significantly advanced access to justice in Texas by assisting with the appropriation of funds and/or other substantive activities related to the provision of legal aid in the state.

Senator Watson serves on the Senate committees overseeing Business and Commerce, Economic Development, Nominations, and Higher Education. He is also vice chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. He currently serves as the chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Senator Watson represents District 14, which covers most of Travis County. Before being elected to the Senate in 2006, he was mayor of Austin from 1997 to 2001.

Senator Watson is a partner with Brown McCarroll, L.L.P., working as a lawyer and public affairs consultant. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Baylor University and graduated first in his class at Baylor Law School. Senator Watson has been named "Rookie of the Year" and one of the state's “10 Best Legislators” by Texas Monthly. Among many other accolades, he was also named outstanding young alumnus of Baylor, Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas and Austinite of the Year. Watson is a former president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, presided as chair of the State Bar Committee on Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters, and served on the State Bar of Texas Executive Committee.

Legal aid organizations funded by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation help more than 120,000 low-income Texas families each year with their civil legal needs. Yet, for every person who is helped with legal aid, a qualifying Texan is denied assistance due to a lack of resources. Currently, only one legal aid lawyer is available to provide assistance for every 11,152 Texans who qualify.

Next Texas Legislative Hero Award will go to Texas Senator Steve Ogden

The next Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award will be awarded to Texas Senator Steve Ogden during a special ceremony on Friday, September 24, at 1 p.m. at the Lone Star Legal Aid office in Bryan, Texas.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation Legislative Hero Award recognizes legislators who have significantly advanced access to justice in Texas by assisting with the appropriation of funds and/or other substantive activities related to the provision of legal aid in the state.

Steve Ogden is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives before he was elected Senator for District 5.

Texas Representative Receives First Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation honored the first recipient of the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award, Texas House Representative Pete P. Gallego, for his contributions to improving access to justice in Texas. He received the award on July 17 at a special presentation at the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid office in Alpine, Texas.

With more than 5.3 million Texans qualifying for legal aid, the Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation launched the Legislative Hero Award program in 2010 to recognize legislators who, through their efforts, have significantly advanced access to justice in Texas by assisting with the appropriation of funds and/or other substantive activities related to the provision of legal aid in the state.

As a leader in the House of Representatives on access to justice issues, including last session’s general appropriation of more than $20 million for civil legal services, Gallego has been an advocate for underserved areas throughout the state including those with vulnerable populations and remote locations. Gallego's efforts helped ensure that basic legal services are available in rural and remote areas of the state, including Alpine, where people would otherwise have to travel great distances to access those services.

Gallego is the first Hispanic to represent District 74. He was elected in 1990 to represent the largest House district and the largest Texas U.S.-Mexico border district covering nearly 39,000 square miles. Gallego has served on the Texas Access to Justice Foundation board of directors since 1996.