On Saturday, the Texas Civil Rights Project presented its 2015 Kristi Couvillon Pro Bono Awards to six Texas attorneys who volunteered on several important cases across the state. The awards were presented at the project’s 25th anniversary Bill of Rights Dinner on November 14, an event that also honored outgoing TCRP Founder and Director Jim Harrington, who is retiring.

  • Ryan Bates, a solo in Austin, appealed to the 5th Circuit when a lower court wouldn’t grant attorneys’ fees to the TCRP, which was successful in its representation of protesters in Occupy Austin vs. City of Austin. Bates was able to obtain the fees from the City of Austin.
  • William DeMond and Meagan Hassan, attorneys in Houston, and Kervyn B. Altaffer Jr., a Dallas solo, represented a disabled inmate’s family in Holden v. Tarrant County. The Tarrant County Jail placed the inmate within access of a high-risk inmate, who eventually murdered the disabled man. The county did not notify the family and buried him in an unmarked grave. These attorneys worked to enable the family to properly bury Holden.
  • Partner Ralph Miller and associate Nathan White—litigators with Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas—successfully appealed the case of a hearing-impaired couple in South Texas that is claiming discrimination by the hospital where their daughter was treated for cancer.

The couple in Miller and White’s case, Rolando and Miriam Perez—who communicate primarily and exclusively in American Sign Language—took their infant daughter to an Edinburg emergency room, where the four-month-old was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Throughout the course of their daughter’s chemotherapy at the hospital, the Perezes said that they were inconsistently provided with an ASL interpreter, sometimes waiting up to a day for an interpreter to arrive and sometimes finding that an interpreter never arrived at all. The hospital’s actions, the couple claims, prevented them from being able to make decisions regarding their child’s treatment.

When the couple sued on the basis of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the district court sided with the hospital. Then, represented by Miller and White, they appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court’s dismissal, finding that there was sufficient evidence of a genuine dispute regarding intentional discrimination. The case has been sent back to the district court, with a trial scheduled for early 2016. (Texas Bar Blog previously published an in-depth article on the case.)

“This is not an isolated case,” said TCRP Legal Director Wayne Krause Yang in a press release. “We hear from people all over the state about hospitals repeatedly refusing to provide simple accommodations for people with disabilities. The great thing is that Ralph and Nathan are not only pro bono heroes for two relieved parents and their young daughter, but for thousands of people across Texas, and within the 5th Circuit, who will benefit from the important precedent they have established.”

For more information on the Texas Civil Rights Project, go to its website.