The Texas Access to Justice Commission, along with its co-sponsor, the State Bar of Texas, raised $565,850 to help provide civil legal services to low-income Texas veterans during the Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans on April 25 at the AT&T Hotel & Conference Center in Austin. Proceeds from the gala will be distributed by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

Supreme Court of Texas Justice Brett Busby, who serves as liaison to the TAJC, acted as master of ceremonies for the evening. He emphasized the importance of providing access to justice to veterans and presented the 2024 James B. Sales Boots on the Ground Award to John McDaniel Torti, the 2024 Harry M. Reasoner Justice for All Award to Elizabeth S. Pagel, the 2024 Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award to Harry M. Reasoner, and the 2024 Star of Justice Award to Sen. Judith Zaffirini.

A legal aid practitioner for 37 years, Torti has shown an unwavering dedication to his clients, a commitment that was showcased during the pandemic as he put in extra hours at the courthouse helping people facing evictions. For the past 17 years, Pagel, a solo practitioner in Humble, has handled an impressive number of pro bono cases through Houston Volunteer Lawyers, in addition to handling challenging family law issues. Pagel also is known for her mentorship of other attorneys, contributing significantly to the expansion of pro bono efforts.

Reasoner is a longtime champion of access to justice issues and pro bono work. Appointed to the TAJC in 2009, he assumed a leadership role in 2010. Under his leadership, the TAJC significantly expanded its work, pursued innovative solutions, and became a national leader in access to justice. Zaffirini, the first female dean of the Texas Senate, was the first Mexican American woman elected to that body. Her tenure, institutional knowledge, and ability to reach across the aisle have made her an invaluable asset to the commission since 2017, when she joined as an ex-officio member representing then Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

This year’s “Macey and Harry Reasoner Access to Justice Lecture Series” featured Major Gen. Alfred Valenzuela, who spoke on the critical importance of access to justice for veterans. Over his 33 years in the U.S. Army, Valenzuela was highly decorated for heroism and valor. He holds the two highest peacetime awards: the Distinguished Defense and Army Service medals.

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