ABA honors Texas Supreme Court for legal aid funding efforts

The SE Texas Record May 7, 2012, 7:00am

Texas Supreme Court justices

WASHINGTON � The Texas Supreme Court received a 2012 American Bar Association Grassroots Advocacy Award for leading an extraordinary effort to preserve state funding for legal aid programs and encouraging support for legal services in other states.

The award was presented April 18 during a reception at the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a press release, last year the Texas Supreme Court played a key role in obtaining funding for Texas legal aid programs at a time when state-directed support was in serious jeopardy. The Texas Supreme Court justices lobbied extensively in support of an amendment on a general appropriations bill, which led to $17.6 million in legal services funding from the Texas state legislature.

The Texas Supreme Court is now working with other state supreme court justices from around the country, encouraging them to reach out to their state legislatures and their congressional delegations for additional legal services funding.

With 63 million Americans�including 22 million children�qualifying for assistance, the Legal Services Corporation is the nation's single largest provider of civil legal aid to citizens who live on incomes below or near the poverty line.

Independent LSC-funded local programs, such as Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, help meet the overwhelming legal needs of struggling families, veterans, disaster victims and the elderly, among others, in every state.

In 2010, LSC-funded aid providers in Texas closed nearly 67,000 cases including child custody matters, foreclosures and veterans claims.

Last year, LSC advocates worked to prevent a devastating $104.2 million (25.7 percent) proposed cut to the LSC budget of $404.2 million in fiscal year 2010.

While the House of Representatives proposed funding LSC at $300 million, the Senate favored an allocation of $396 million. Ultimately, funding was set at $348 million.

"The Texas Supreme Court is pleased to accept this honor from the ABA. We believe that access to justice is where the promise of the rule of law becomes real, so we will always strive to keep the doors of Texas courts open for the most vulnerable members of our community," said Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

"The justices of the Supreme Court of Texas deserve special recognition for their outspoken support of legal services. Every community in Texas is a beneficiary of their dedication to equal access. The justices demonstrate yet again their commitment to be the ultimate guardians of our liberty," said ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III.

The Texas Supreme Court will receive one of the five ABA Grassroots Advocacy Awards that will be given as part of the ABA's annual effort to connect policymakers with constituents in the legal profession.

ABA Day 2012 brought distinguished lawyers from 50 states to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues such as funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the Violence Against Women Act, and the collection of overdue state court-ordered fees.

Other recipients of 2012 ABA Grassroots Advocacy Awards include George Cauthen, Nelson Mullins et al; L. Jonathan Ross, Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC; the State Bar of Michigan; and Betty Balli Torres, Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.

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