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State Bar of Texas
MEDIA ADVISORY
May 30, 2012

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Pro Bono Excellence Award Winners Announced by State Bar of Texas

AUSTIN – The State Bar of Texas Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee has announced the recipients of the 2012 Pro Bono Excellence Awards to be presented at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting in Houston on Thursday, June 14, 2012. 

John O’Connor, an associate in the Dallas office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, will receive this year’s Frank J. Scurlock Award, which honors an individual attorney who has provided outstanding pro bono work. He has volunteered with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP) since he was a summer associate with Weil in 2006. In the last two years, he has logged close to 600 hours of pro bono legal services through DVAP.

The W. Frank Newton Award will be presented to the Dallas office of Patton Boggs LLP for its outstanding pro bono efforts. At Patton Boggs, all lawyers are encouraged to do pro bono work, and all associates and salaried of counsel are required to perform at least 100 hours of pro bono service each year. Through the Patton Boggs Pro Bono Program, coordinated through the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, attorneys in the Dallas office donated approximately 8,000 hours of pro bono work in 2011.
Human Rights Initiative’s William O. Holston, Jr. Pro Bono Program (HRI) in Dallas will receive the Pro Bono Award, which recognizes a volunteer attorney organization’s outstanding contribution toward guaranteeing access to the legal system. HRI provides free legal representation to individuals seeking asylum and immigrant women and children who have experienced abuse, such as domestic violence, trafficking, neglect, and abandonment. In 2011, HRI volunteer attorneys donated 5,554 hours, an estimated value of more than $2 million.

Justice Phylis Speedlin of the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio will receive the inaugural Judge Merrill Hartman Pro Bono Judge Award. This award honors a judge who has provided exemplary pro bono service. Justice Speedlin has served on the Fourth Court of Appeals since her appointment to the Texas appellate court in April 2003. Frustrated with the number of self-represented litigants appearing before their courts, Justice Speedlin and Judge Karen Pozza designed a new pro bono program, the Community Justice Program — a joint project of the San Antonio Bar Association, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and other community organizations — which has spurred the development of similar programs in nine counties.

Pete J. Fierro of Midland will receive the Pro Bono Coordinator Award for his work as the Equal Justice Volunteer Program Coordinator with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas’ Midland branch office. As the program’s volunteer coordinator for nearly 10 years, Fierro has focused on creating pro bono opportunities to recruit volunteer attorneys to provide civil legal assistance to low-income people in Glasscock, Howard, Martin, Midland, Reagan, and Upton counties. Fierro has demonstrated the importance of building collaborative partnerships in an effort to address the unmet legal needs of the client community.

The J. Chrys Dougherty Legal Services Award is a joint award with the Texas Bar Foundation that recognizes outstanding legal aid staff attorneys. This year, two attorneys will be recognized with this award.

Mickey Baden of Houston has been instrumental in the success of the Houston Bar Foundation Veterans Legal Initiative. Since he started working with the Veterans Legal Initiative, Baden has increased the number of veterans served at the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program’s weekly veterans legal advice clinic at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, while at the same time increasing the quality of services received by the veterans and the quality of the volunteer attorneys’ experience. He has represented more than 65 veterans or their spouses who were facing emergency issues.

Julie Balovich of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s Alpine office is currently the managing attorney for the Guardianship Team, previously serving as deputy group coordinator for the Domestic Violence and Family Law practice group. She played a lead role in the 2008-09 litigation on behalf of women who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) in Eldorado. Balovich was at the courthouse in San Angelo while the proceedings occurred. She advocated for her clients, was at the stadium where the children were being held, was denied the right to visit or even speak with her clients, and watched as the buses scattered the children across the state. The FLDS litigation required the tireless and imaginative advocacy that is typical of her work. Balovich regularly works extra hours and on weekends, and is always willing to take on a tough case that appears hopeless.

The State Bar of Texas is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas. The Bar provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the minimum continuing legal education program for attorneys, and manages the attorney discipline system.

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MEDIA NOTE: Photos of the award winners are available on request.