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.

Texas lawyers, legal organization to receive ABA Difference Makers Awards in San Antonio

Three Texas attorneys and a San Antonio legal services organization will receive national awards for breaking down barriers through community service, pro bono work, and service to the legal profession, the American Bar Association announced today

The list of 2014 Difference Makers Awards recipients includes State Bar of Texas Immediate Past President Lisa M. Tatum, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, Houston immigration lawyer Harry Gee Jr., and RAICES, a San Antonio-based legal services and education organization for refugees and immigrants.


The awards will be presented Friday, Oct. 24 in San Antonio during the 9th Annual National Solo & Small Firm Conference, presented by the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

Tatum, the owner of San Antonio-based LM Tatum, PLLC, will receive the 2014 Making a Difference Through Community Service Award, which honors an attorney—living or deceased—who has made a significant lifetime contribution to the local community.

Tatum has served in leadership positions in local, state, and national bar associations and has been active in her community as an alumnus of Leadership San Antonio, a member of local chambers of commerce and the Greater San Antonio YMCA Board of Directors, and as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, among other activities.

During her term as State Bar president in 2013-2014, Tatum guided the launch of two major initiatives: I was the First. Vote for Me!, an award-winning interactive civics education project for Texas elementary school students, and the Care Campaign, an effort to empower attorneys to serve the millions of low-income Texans who can’t afford the legal help they need.

Click the links below for more information about the recipients.


Retired Chief Justice Pope donates law library to UNT Dallas College of Law

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht joined former chief justices, state political leaders, and UNT Dallas College of Law faculty on Monday to celebrate retired Chief Justice Jack Pope’s gift of more than 300 books to the school.

Pope, who turned 100 this year, donated his personal law library to the new law school, which will seat its first class in fall 2014.

The collection includes signed copies of his personal set of South Western Reporters covering 1950 to 1985, when he served on the San Antonio Court of Civil Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court, the college announced at a luncheon in Austin.

“I was proud of my library before I started giving it away,” Pope told the assembled group, which included retired Chief Justices Wallace B. Jefferson and Thomas Phillips and UNT Dallas College of Law Founding Dean Royal Furgeson.


Among others attending the event were state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who worked as a law clerk to Pope in 1983-1984, and state Sen. Royce West, who wrote the bill that created the Dallas law school.

Branch said the donation would help “extend Pope’s legacy to the young North Texas law students of the next generation.” The donation will also help future students appreciate what a South Western Reporter looked like, he said, “because at some point they are going to think it was all digital."

Austin attorney Stephen McConnico, who was a briefing attorney to Pope from 1976 to 1977, said some of the donated books even have Pope’s handwritten notes in the margins.

“This personal and signed collection from Justice Pope has special meaning for a new, 21st-century law school library,” said Edward Hart, assistant professor and assistant dean for the law library, in a statement.

“While technological and digital advancements have greatly altered tools and techniques for finding and using information, this collection represents what remains essential to law and lawyering, including the common law process, the civil justice system, and principled judging.”

Pope served as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court from 1964 to 1982 and as chief justice from 1982 to 1985.

Pictured: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, second from left, joins former Chief Justices Wallace B. Jefferson, Jack Pope, and Thomas Phillips, from left, to celebrate Pope’s donation of his personal law library to the new UNT Dallas College of Law.

Hecht takes oath as Texas Supreme Court chief justice

Nathan L. Hecht of Austin took the oath of office as the 27th chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas on Tuesday, replacing Wallace B. Jefferson, who retired.

“This is a great day,” Jefferson told a crowd of justices, clerks, family members, and other spectators inside the Supreme Court before administering the oath to Hecht. “This is a wonderful day because the governor has made an inspired choice.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hecht to serve the remainder of Jefferson’s term, which expires in 2014. A formal investiture ceremony will be schedule later this fall, Hecht said.

“We wanted to have this [swearing in] for the court family this afternoon,” he said.

Hecht, a graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1988 and was the court’s senior justice.

“He has been the leader on this court in terms of our development of the rules of procedure,” said Jefferson, who served with Hecht since 2001. “His scholarship and his writing are second to none. Nathan Hecht has a national reputation as a person with a huge intellect and who brings scholarship in the law. It is a lot of fun working with Nathan Hecht, simply because he is so brilliant at what he does.”

Speakers in turn praised the retiring Jefferson for his leadership, including his focus on access-to-justice issues.

“Obviously, the chief justice has brought honor to the court, to the state, and to himself with the many things he’s accomplished during the terms that he has been the chief justice and, before that, a justice on the Supreme Court,” said Justice Paul W. Green, who was first elected to the court in 2004. “The national recognition, the leadership roles that he’s undertaken and been asked to undertake were performed so well.”

Jefferson was in private practice in San Antonio when Perry appointed him to the court as a justice in March 2001. He won a full term in November 2002 before Perry appointed him chief justice in 2005. He was then elected chief justice in 2006 and re-elected in 2008.

Jefferson thanked Perry, saying the appointments “changed my life.”

“It’s been just a tremendous thrill to be a part of the development of the law in this state and, to some extent, in this country when people are relying on our decisions,” Jefferson said.

Pictured: Outgoing Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, right, swears in his successor, Nathan L. Hecht, on Tuesday at the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Jefferson Announces His Resignation

The Texas Supreme Court has confirmed news reports that Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson will resign effective Oct. 1. The court’s full news release appears below.

Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson announced Tuesday that he will leave the Supreme Court of Texas effective October 1, 2013.

 Chief Justice Jefferson has not determined his plans upon retirement.

Under his leadership, the Court drastically reduced the number of cases carried over from one term to another and significantly increased the use of technology to improve efficiency, increase transparency and decrease costs. 

“I was fortunate to have served under Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, who in his nearly 17 years transformed the Court into a leader not only in jurisprudence, but also in the hard work of administering justice fairly,” Jefferson said. “I am most proud to have worked with my colleagues to increase the public’s access to the legal system, which guarantees the rights conferred by our Constitutions.”

Under his leadership cameras came to the Court in 2007, allowing the public to view oral arguments live to bolster the public’s understanding of the Court’s work. The Court implemented a new case-management system and required all lawyers to submit appellate briefs electronically for posting on the Court’s website so that the arguments framing the great issues of the day are accessible to Texas citizens.

The Court mandated electronic filing of court documents last year, which will decrease the cost of litigation and increase courts’ productivity. The Court fought for increased funding for basic civil legal services and established the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families. Jefferson led efforts to preserve historic court documents throughout the state and helped to reform antiquated juvenile-justice practices.

Appointed by Governor Rick Perry, Jefferson joined the Court in 2001. Before his appointment, he practiced appellate law with Crofts, Callaway & Jefferson in San Antonio, where he successfully argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Governor Perry elevated him to chief justice in September 2004 after Phillips’ retirement. He is Texas’ 26th chief justice.

During his tenure on the Court, he served with 21 different justices.

“Chief Justice Jefferson has been an extraordinary and effective leader for the Supreme Court and the Texas judiciary,” said Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s senior justice. “The people of Texas are greatly indebted to him for his years of exemplary service.”

Beyond his work in Texas, Jefferson served as president of the Conference of Chief Justices, an association of chief justices from the 50 states and U.S. territories. He also served on the federal Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, the Council of the American Law Institute, the Board of the American Bar Foundation and the Board of Advisors of the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative. He holds honorary degrees from Michigan State University, University of New Hampshire School of Law, Hofstra Law School and Pepperdine University and is the namesake for the Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School in San Antonio.

“I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Governor Perry, who entrusted me with the awesome responsibility of leading the judicial branch in Texas,” Jefferson said. “The courts exist to serve the people. I am profoundly grateful that through three elections they have afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime – to devote so much of my life to their cause.”

Current, future civics teachers stage mock arguments at Texas Supreme Court

Current and future civics teachers from across the state got a chance to hold mock oral arguments Wednesday at the Texas Supreme Court.

About 30 teachers and education students from various Texas universities participated in the arguments as part of the Hatton W. Sumners Student Teacher Institute, part of the Institutes on the Founding Documents

In the past, the training program has included a visit with state Supreme Court justices, but this was the first year participants staged mock oral arguments, said Jan Miller, who directs the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department. The program is designed to inspire social studies and government teachers to use hands-on teaching methods, rather than just rely on textbooks, Miller said.

Supreme Court clerks organized the oral arguments section of the two-day program. The mock case involved a lawsuit over whether an eatery could open inside a shopping mall if another restaurant already held a contract as the mall’s exclusive sandwich shop.

“The project came from me watching students go through this room and have no idea what’s going on,” court clerk Andrew Wynans said, referring to the school classes and other groups that regularly tour the court.

Even many adults don’t understand that Texas has two high courts—the Supreme Court, which handles civil cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which handles criminal cases, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson told the educators.

Jefferson said he agrees with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who cites a lack of civics education among the country’s biggest problems. 

“I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure our students know what America is really all about and how it works and how it came to be and what the deficiencies are as well,” Jefferson said. “And I think your interest in this subject matter will help educate them better than they would have been without this project.”

Pictured above: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson addresses a group of about 30 current and future civics teachers from across the state Wednesday in Austin. Below: Educators participate in mock oral arguments organized by Texas Supreme Court clerks.


The TBJ April Issue

Inside: State Bar president-elect candidates Trey Apffel of League City, Steve Fischer of Rockport, and Larry W. Hicks of El Paso talk about the issues facing the legal profession, ethics, and the next generation of lawyers. Plus: A comprehensive look at the oil and gas industry in Texas, Supreme Court of Texas Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson on the state of the judiciary, a Q&A with TYLA president-elect candidates Rebekah Steely Brooker of Dallas and Alfonso Cabañas of San Antonio, and tips on dealing with the electronic media. Go to the Texas Bar Journal to read the entire issue. 

Chief Justice Delivers State of Judiciary Address

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson today delivered his biennial State of the Judiciary address. Among the issues Jefferson discussed were juvenile justice, access to justice, indigent defense, judicial selection, and the preservation of court records.

"I ask you to take action this Session," Jefferson implored members of the House and Senate. "Give us the assurance that, at this crucial juncture, we did not turn our backs on the neediest among us, but continued to serve them as the Constitution so strongly demands."

To read Jefferson's full address, click here.