Posted inNews

Texas Access to Justice Foundation wraps up Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, or TAJF, wraped up Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week, a statewide effort to provide legal aid to qualified veterans, on Saturday, November 17. The weeklong event brought legal aid programs, local bar associations, law schools, and pro bono attorneys together to offer free legal services in civil legal matters, including:

1. Denial of critical medical care;
2. Problems receiving benefits;
3. Legal issues related to disabilities;
4. Family law matters arising from deployment; and
5. Other issues that may arise due to a veteran’s absence from home during military service.

Texas has the second-highest population of veterans in the U.S., according to TAJF. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says legal issues make up four of the top 10 needs of homeless veterans.

In 2017, TAJF provided $1.87 million in grants to 14 nonprofit organizations that provided free legal services to over 8,800 veterans. The same year, the foundation also announced the Remembering Our Heroes campaign, which benefits the Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services. Individuals can make donations in honor of a specific person, living or deceased, who is a veteran or is active duty in the U.S. military. A donation was recently made by the Lowe family in honor of L. Hamilton Lowe, a Navy veteran and the first vice president of the State Bar of Texas—his granddaughter, Joyce Lowe is an attorney with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas in San Angelo.

For a complete list of event locations and times, after Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week, go to texaslawhelp.org/tvlaw-2018.

Posted inConferenceEducationNews

Registration Open for State Bar LRE Annual Conference

The State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Annual Conference will be held on January 25-26, 2019, at the Commons Conference Center in Austin. The theme for 2019 is “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society, and Free Enterprise,” which expands on the 2019 Law Day theme.

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Posted inAccess to JusticeNews

Chief Justice Hecht, Texas legal aid leaders honored by National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht received the Equal Justice Ambassador Award at the NLADA annual conference at the Westin Galleria in Houston on November 2. Photo by Eric Quitugua

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association, or NLADA, honored and featured several notable Texans at its annual conference at the Westin Galleria in Houston in November. The event celebrates, advocates for, and educates on access to justice, bringing together legal aid and indigent defense lawyers from across the U.S.

“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the work that we do but more importantly to learn from each other,” said Texas Access to Justice Foundation Executive Director Betty Balli Torres, who co-chaired the conference. “We are so proud that NLADA chose to have their conference in Houston. It was very intentional. They wanted to come to a city that really exemplified resilience, and we all know that last year, Houston had to deal with Hurricane Harvey and, frankly, continues to have to deal with the aftermath.”

Since its formation in 1911, the NLADA has created public defense systems and has advocated for civil legal aid and public defender services. Its annual conferences bring together legal aid providers from across the country that attend CLE sessions on access to justice and learn from guest speakers how to tackle different roadblocks to helping people in need of legal representation.

This year’s location in Houston was especially poignant, given the yearlong legal aid efforts since Hurricane Harvey hit the city and the Texas Gulf Coast. Saundra Brown, who is Lone Star Legal Aid’s directing attorney of its disaster legal services, received the Reginald Heber Smith Award during the conference’s award ceremony for her disaster relief work in the region post-Harvey.

Saundra Brown, Lone Star Legal Aid’s directing attorney of disaster legal services, received the Reginald Heber Smith Award during the NLADA annual conference at the Westin Galleria in Houston on November 2. Photo by Eric Quitugua

In the wake of Harvey, Brown was something of a spokesperson for Lone Star, being quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker on the importance of Texans registering for Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, aid, as well as relaying the organization’s efforts in training attorneys across Houston, visiting shelters, and helping people with issues regarding FEMA.

“We’ve continued and are doing different kinds of cases now, still all related to disaster,” Brown told the Texas Bar Journal before receiving her award. “The recovery’s longtime legal needs will probably exist for 10 years after any given disaster.”

Each year, the conference has a theme: this year’s was “resilient justice,” which translates to progress toward equal justice in the face of challenges to the country’s bedrock principles of fairness and equality, according to the event guide. Sessions fit the theme with titles like “Another Brick in the Wall: Education Rights of Immigrant and Refugee Students in Times of Uncertainty” and “Jail Is Not the Solution: Innovative Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness.”

Jo-Ann Wallace, president and CEO of the NLADA, pointed to headlines of the day as part of why legal aid and indigent defense are so important.

“…we see a rise in hate crimes—but at the same time there’s amazing work being done in civil and criminal justice reform,” NLADA president and CEO told the Texas Bar Journal. “Advocates and other equal justice leaders are [making sure] every day that our system and our country and justice system are more fair.” Photo by Eric Quitugua

“I think that many people are very concerned about some of the directions our country is headed in right now,” she said. “For example, we see a rise in hate crimes—but at the same time there’s amazing work being done in civil and criminal justice reform. Advocates and other equal justice leaders are [making sure] every day that our system and our country and justice system are more fair.”

Award recipients and guest speakers who do just that reflect the conference theme. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, who received the Equal Justice Ambassador Award, was touted by Wallace for helping to shape policies addressing pressing issues for low-income defendants, including expanded screening for those with mental illness and limited fines and fees in criminal cases.

Hecht, who later gave credit to the court, mused on his own definition of resilient justice.

“There are lots of challenges we have today in Texas and throughout the country in making legal resources available to everyone,” Hecht told the Texas Bar Journal before accepting his award. “As I’ve said many times before, justice for only those who can afford it is neither justice for all nor justice at all. So resilient justice is that quality of justice we want to see to address the challenges we have today and overcome them.”

During the ceremony, Hecht said it’s the Supreme Court and National Conference of Chief Justices, of which he is first vice president, that works hard to support pro bono programs and legal aid providers, as well as demonstrate to the Legislature and Congress the need for public financial support for expanding access to justice.

Guest speakers at the NLADA conference included keynote Rodney Ellis, former Texas senator and current Harris County commissioner. During his tenure in the Senate, Ellis authored or sponsored legislation centered on indigent defense that dealt with compensation and group health benefits coverage for people who were wrongfully imprisoned; and the Texas Fair Defense Act, which required Texas criminal courts to adopt procedures for providing legal representation for indigent defendants.

Rodney Ellis, former Texas senator and current Harris County commissioner, delivered the keynote address at the NLADA annual conference at the Westin Galleria in Houston on November 1. Photo by Eric Quitugua

During his keynote address, Ellis encouraged attendees to become more active in politics by developing partnerships with prosecutors, sheriffs, county officials, and state officials in order to “move the needle” on reforms they’re interested in. He also urged them to run for some of those same offices, including for state legislator, judge, or commissioner.

“In my years in politics, I found oftentimes that people who really understand the system best have a reluctance to really get involved and try to make a difference on the elected side,” Ellis told the Texas Bar Journal.

Alex Bunin, Harris County’s chief public defender and a member of the conference’s planning committee, coordinated Ellis’ spot as the keynote speaker. Bunin said he enjoyed the keynote address. He also emphasized the importance of defenders and legal aid lawyers talking about their shared issues—in his line of work, he does what he calls ‘holistic defense,’ in which he doesn’t just represent clients in their criminal cases but also works with them on other issues in their lives such as eviction or immigration.

Alex Bunin, Harris County’s chief public defender, emphasized the importance of defenders and legal aid lawyers talking about their shared issues—in his line of work, he does what he calls ‘holistic defense,’ in which he doesn’t just represent clients in their criminal cases but also works with them on other issues in their lives such as eviction or immigration. Photo by Eric Quitugua

“Even though we aren’t personally specialists in those areas, we know we need to work with those lawyers who do that work to help our clients,” Bunin said. “A lot of the times, that’s what brings them into the criminal justice system. We call them ‘collateral consequences.’ But really it’s just about life when you’re poor. Those are the kinds of things that are important that NLADA addresses.”

Judge Lora Livingston, of the 261st Civil District Court in Travis County and a liaison to the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, co-chaired the conference. She has spent much of her legal career focused on legal aid. Early on, Livingston was a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow with the Legal Aid Society of Central Texas, with an emphasis on poverty law, and later family law with Livingston & Parr before becoming a judge in 1995.

Livingston called the event a great way to network with other people interested in access to justice on both the civil and criminal sides. In particular, she was impressed with the NLADA’s focus on public-private partnerships.

“I really believe that what we in the public sector do can be made better—more efficient—and can be greatly improved by our partnership with those in the private sector and by the recognition that their partnership with those of us in the public sector is really an exciting opportunity for both groups,” Livingston said.

Robert Doggett, of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, took over as the executive director after 42-year director David Hall retired in 2017. He called Hall an icon in the legal aid community, saying he is doing his best to continue the former director’s programming. The NLADA conference, Doggett, said is another way to get fresh ideas for innovative litigation in order to bring more justice to impoverished Texans.

“There are so many different people from across the country doing amazing things,” he said. “Sometimes you get lost in your own bubble and your own local activities, and stopping to hear what other people are doing in other parts of the country is a wonderful way to be exposed to some of the great innovative ideas they’ve got.”

For more information about the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, go to nlada.org.

Posted inNewsTexas Supreme Court

Texas Supreme Court holds special session to commemorate 100th anniversary of World War I armistice

Justices of the Supreme Court of Texas convened a special session of the court on Wednesday to honor judges and governors who served in the armed forces during the Great War. Descendants of those honored were among those present in the crowd.

The session was held in the historic Texas Supreme Court courtroom in the Texas Capitol in recognition of 100 years since the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. Justice Paul Green presided over the court in the absence of Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, who was unable to attend the ceremony.

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Posted inGuest BlogTexas Lawyers' Assistance ProgramTLAP

Stories of Recovery: Life’s terms

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on July 3, 2014, as part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery blog series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.

The first time I got intentionally drunk was on May 26, 1972. I was 12 years old and woke up that morning to find that my father had died during the night.

By that afternoon I had dipped into Dad’s liquor cabinet and I was drunk. For some reason I instinctively knew that alcohol was the balm for the pain that I thought was going to kill me. Please understand that I am not an alcoholic because my father died. Rather, what this illustrates is that alcohol was not my problem, it was my solution—to everything—and THAT was the problem. Continue Reading

Posted inNewsTexas Young Lawyers Association

New TYLA podcast offers tips for young attorneys

Young Gunners, a new podcast from the Texas Young Lawyers Association, or TYLA, discusses practical tips and challenges that face new attorneys.

The podcast, first released on October 23, 2018, has eight episodes, with new episodes dropping every Tuesday. Episodes feature TYLA directors talking with experienced attorneys about topics including demand letters, going to court, the basics of oil and gas law, social media, mergers and acquisitions, and work/life balance.

Topics currently featured on the podcast include drafting effective (and ethical) demand letters, effective use of objections in court, social media, cross-border transactions, going to court, and getting evidence admitted before a jury.

Young Gunners episodes are available for download on iTunes.

Posted inNews

Texas Courts of Appeals issues nearly 10,000 opinions in FY 2018

The 14 Texas Courts of Appeals issued almost 10,000 opinions in the FY 2018, an increase of 1.3 percent from the previous year. The number of opinions issued by each justice increased by 4.5 percent.

The majority of the appellate cases before the court are now civil cases—making up a record percentage of the docket with 54.3 percent of all cases.

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