FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans Raises Over $448,000
AUSTIN – The Texas Access to Justice Commission, with its co-sponsor the State Bar of Texas, honored veterans throughout the state at the Virtual 2021 Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans. The Masters of Ceremonies for the gala were Texas Supreme Court Justices Eva Guzman and Brett Busby. More than $448,000 was raised with all proceeds designated for addressing the civil legal needs of low-income Texans. Proceeds will be distributed to legal aid providers serving veterans by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.
The Commission also celebrated its 20th Anniversary. Supreme Court of Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht was joined by former Justice Deborah Hankinson and former Justice Harriet O’Neill to speak about the history of the Commission. Formed in April 2001, the Texas Access to Justice Commission was only the fifth commission in the nation at that time. Justice Hankinson recalled that “If we were going to succeed, we were going to do it together and collaboratively, and [engage] in some very significant problem solving.” Hankinson noted that Texas is a leader in demonstrating what Access to Justice efforts can accomplish.
Justice O’Neill talked about the development of the Commission under then Commission Chair, Jim Sales, including the relationship that evolved between Sales and the first Commission Executive Director Emily Jones. “Watching these two bond as they work together and develop a lifelong friendship was a beautiful thing to see,” O’Neill reflected, and stated that their work and relationship was a tribute to the spirit of those who join in the Commision’s vision and execution.
Chief Justice Hecht described the strength of the Commission embodied by current Chair, Harry Reasoner. Hecht shared that Reasoner, one of the best lawyers in the country, not only accepted the appointment but was personally passionate about the access to justice mission. Under his leadership, the Commission redouble its legislative and congressional efforts in pursuit of additional civil legal aid funding, which have been met with success. His remarkable commitment has also resulted in greater public awareness of and support for providing low-income Texans with civil legal services and making the justice system real to them.
Justice Eva M. Guzman, Justice Brett Busby, and Justice
Rebecca Huddle presented the annual award winners. The 2021 James B.
Sales Boots on the Ground Award was presented to Beth Mitchell, Senior
Managing Attorney with Disability Rights Texas, and Allison Eichenfeld
Neal, Managing Attorney, with Texas Advocacy Project. The inaugural
Harry M. Reasoner Justice for All Award, which recognizes an attorney
who demonstrates dedication to providing pro bono legal services, was
awarded to R. Paul Yetter, partner with Yetter Coleman LLP. The Emily C.
Jones Lifetime Achievement Award was
presented to Fred Fuchs with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for his
“extraordinary spirit and demonstrated commitment to legal
aid.” Each recipient offered heartfelt remarks of gratitude and
appreciation for the support of their firm or legal aid organization,
colleagues, and the access to justice community.
General Spencer’s father, Sgt. Alfonso Spencer, served in the Koren War. As a proud son, General Spencer recalled, “Growing up with my dad, he never wanted to talk about the war. Many of the Vets from previous generations came back from war and were told to suck it up and not complain. There was no acronym called PTSD at the time.”
General Spencer applauded the work and impact civil legal aid
has had for veterans and reiterated its necessity. He explained that so
many veterans suffer from the traumas of war, they have endured a lot,
and many do not share its impact with loved ones. Affording an attorney
would be out of reach for many. Funding civil legal aid for Texas
veterans is crucial. He expressed his appreciation for and gratitude to
the Texas Access to Justice Commission and its work.
Harry M. Reasoner, of Vinson & Elkins LLP, serves as chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission.
Texas Legal Aid
The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.