Elected officials honored with the Legislative Hero Award
and organizations awarded the Access to Justice Award
AUSTIN – Yesterday, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and the Supreme Court of Texas hosted a luncheon to address the increasing need to expand access to justice for all Texans. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation and Texas Access to Justice Commission honored senators and representatives with the Legislative Hero Award for their contributions to improving access to justice for Texans during the 88th Legislative Session.
Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini (Laredo) and State Rep. Joe Moody (El Paso) were recognized for their efforts in passing a bill relating to the payment of certain court costs associated with interpreters. Texas Sen. Charles Perry (Lubbock), State Rep. Jeff Leach (Plano) and State Rep. Lulu Flores (Austin) were recognized for a bill creating a mechanism for utilizing unclaimed IOLTA funds in lawyers’ accounts for civil legal aid.
“We are grateful for the efforts and noteworthy accomplishments made by these Texas leaders in advancing access to justice in Texas,” Deborah Hankinson, chair of the board of directors of TAJF, said. “We are honored to recognize these elected officials, as they are changing the lives of Texans in need of legal aid.”
The Texas Access to Justice Foundation and Commission launched the Legislative Hero Award program in 2010 to recognize legislators who, through their efforts, significantly advanced access to justice in Texas by assisting with the appropriation of funds or other substantive activities related to the provision of legal aid in the state.
Remarks were also provided by Ronald Flagg, president of the Legal Services Corporation. LSC is the largest nationwide funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans.
“The leadership and strategic collaboration in Texas among the Supreme Court, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, our three LSC grantees and other legal aid providers should serve as a model for other states,” Flagg said. “This collective work and collaboration could not be more timely or important, for due to a lack of resources, only 8% of the civil problems facing low-income Texans receive sufficient legal help.”
The Foundation also honored Arnold & Itkin LLP and the Hispanic Issues Section of the State Bar of Texas with the Access to Justice Award. The award recognized these organizations for hosting fundraisers this year benefitting legal aid. Awards were presented by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht and Justice Brett Busby.
Senator Judith Zaffirini
Texas Sen. Zaffirini (Laredo) represents the 21st Senatorial District. She is the first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas Senate, the second highest-ranking senator, and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator. She is now a current member of the Judicial Council and the Texas Access to Justice Commission.
Sen. Zaffirini has received more than 1,100 awards and honors for her legislative, public service and professional work. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame by Gov. Abbott in 2018, named the State Bar of Texas Judicial Section’s Friend of the Judiciary in 2021 and honored with the Laredo-Webb County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell award in 2022.
Her work ethic is reflected in her 100% voting record, having cast 67,923 consecutive votes and passed more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas. Sen. Zaffirini is responsible for bills that directed TAJF to create probate forms–including simple wills, muniments of title and small estate affidavits–which allow a greater number of Texans to transfer the legal title of their property. Additionally, Sen. Zaffrini carried a bill that requires courts to post a list of all legal aid providers and other statewide resources on their websites.
Senator Charles Perry
Texas Sen. Charles Perry (Lubbock) represents the 28th Senatorial District and was elected to the Texas Senate in 2014 after serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives. Sen. Perry currently serves as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and is Vice Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. He also sits on the Senate Committees for Finance, Redistricting, State Affairs and Transportation, and serves as co-chairs for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas Advisory Committee and the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund. The Senator was also appointed by Governor Abbott to the Southwestern States Water Commission and the Western States Water Council.
Most recently, Sen. Perry authored Senate Bill 28, which would create a special Texas Water Fund that the Texas Water Development Board could use for water supply projects and upgrades to existing water infrastructure. Outside his work in the Legislature, Sen. Perry served in his community as past president of the Lubbock Boys and Girls Club, American Business Clubs and Community Partners, and previously served on the board of the National Council on Family Violence and the Women’s Protective Services of Lubbock.
State Representative Jeff Leach
State Rep. Jeff Leach (Plano) represents House District 27 in Collin County. Now serving in his sixth term, Rep. Leach has worked to tackle the state’s skyrocketing property taxes while making historic investments in reforms to public education.
In 2019, he authored and passed the landmark legislation giving way to Proposition 4, the constitutional amendment banning the imposition of a state income tax on individuals. Recognized with numerous awards for his legal work, Rep. Leach specializes in complex commercial and civil litigation, construction law and real estate law.
During the 88th Texas Legislature, Rep. Leach was appointed to serve a third term as Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence. Additionally, Rep. Leach was selected to serve on the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. As Chairman of the House’s major legislative committee with oversight of the Texas justice system, Rep. Leach worked to improve our state’s advanced sound reforms to civil practice and procedure. Specifically, he has bolstered our state’s judiciary with the creation of 17 new courts across the state—including two in Collin County—and implemented various reforms to improve access to courts, higher pay for jurors and consolidated court fees to promote fairness and transparency.
State Representative Lulu Flores
State Rep. Lulu Flores (Austin) represents House District 51 in Travis County. During her first session in the Texas House, her biggest legislative priority was reducing property taxes and increasing funding for public education.
Previously, Rep. Flores served as president and chief executive officer of the National Women’s Political Caucus, the longest-serving institution committed to increasing women’s participation throughout the political process. Rep. Flores serves on the Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee, as well as the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.
Recognized for both her work as a lawyer and an agent for social change, Rep. Flores was named “National Latina Lawyer of the Year” by the Hispanic National Bar Association and was included in the City of Austin Women’s Hall of Fame for her leadership, advocacy, and mentoring. Most recently, she was named the 2020 “Distinguished Lawyer of the Year” by the Austin Bar Association. An active volunteer, Rep. Flores continues to support a variety of causes, including serving as a member of the Advisory Committee of the University of Texas Center for Women and Gender Studies.
State Representative Joe Moody
State Rep. Joe Moody (El Paso) represents House District 78, an urban and rural district in northern El Paso County. He currently serves as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Texas House of Representatives, as Vice Chair of the Calendars Committee, and as a member of the committees on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, and Redistricting.
While Rep. Moody’s legislative work ranged from veterans issues and mental health to education and equality, his passion is criminal justice reform. Rep. Moody devoted attention to preventing wrongful convictions, promoting diversion and reintegration and improving access to justice and indigent defense outcomes. He also filled critical gaps in our laws on domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking and sexual assault.
Rep. Moody’s work earned him numerous accolades, including awards from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and Equality Texas. He was also named one of Texas Monthly’s Top 10 Legislators after back-to-back legislative sessions in 2017 and 2019.
The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the primary state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texas families each year. For more information, please visit: www.teajf.org
Former Supreme Court Justice and chair of the TAJF board of directors, Deborah Hankinson
Former congressman and TAJF board member Pete Gallego interacting with the Texas Legal Services Center’s virtual court kiosk.
Ronald Flagg, president of the Legal Services Center, addresses attendees at the Supreme Court of Texas Luncheon to enforce the importance of providing civil legal aid not only in Texas but across the nation.
Luncheon attendees were able to learn about and interact with a virtual court kiosk, provided by the Texas Legal Services Center.