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April 26, 2024
Contact: April Faith-Slaker
Texas Access to Justice Commission
april.faith-slaker@texasbar.com | 512-427-1855

Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans Raises $565,850

AUSTIN —The Texas Access to Justice Commission and its co-sponsor, the State Bar of Texas, honored veterans throughout the state at the Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans last night at the AT&T Hotel & Conference Center in Austin. The event raised more than half a million dollars, which the commission will distribute to help provide civil legal services to low-income Texas veterans.

Supreme Court of Texas Justice Brett Busby served as master of ceremonies. Justice Busby is the court's liaison to the Texas Access to Justice Commission. Throughout the evening, he emphasized the importance of providing access to justice to our veterans.

Major General Alfred Valenzuela delivered this year’s Macey and Harry Reasoner Access to Justice Lecture. Over his 33 years in the U.S. Army, General Valenzuela was highly decorated for heroism and valor. He holds the two highest peacetime awards: the Distinguished Defense and Army Service medals. Valenzuela remains active in retirement, having created a Charter Leadership Academy on the West Side of San Antonio and served as interim president/CEO for the San Antonio Housing Authority and executive director of the Bexar County Housing Authority. Valenzuela spoke on the critical importance of access to justice for veterans.

Justice Busby announced several awards at the event. He 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 Senator Judith Zaffirini.

John McDaniel Torti was nominated by several of his colleagues, all of whom expressed appreciation for his mentorship. A legal aid practitioner for 37 years, Torti is also greatly admired for the breadth of his expertise across different areas of law. Throughout his career, 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.

Elizabeth S. Pagel, a solo practitioner in Humble, has provided outstanding pro bono service to disadvantaged clients. For the past 17 years, she has handled an impressive number of these 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.

Harry M. Reasoner is a longtime champion of access to justice issues and pro bono work. Appointed to the commission in 2009, he assumed a leadership role in 2010. Under his leadership, the commission significantly expanded its work, pursued innovative solutions, and became a national leader in access to justice.

Senator Judith Zaffirini, the first female Dean of the Texas Senate, was the first Mexican American woman elected to that body and is now its longest serving member. 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 the Lieutenant Governor. Senator Zaffirini has helped the commission with many legislative efforts, most recently passing clarification on what court costs are covered by Rule 145.

The gala committee was chaired by Harry M. Reasoner, who also serves as chair emeritus for commission. Several co-chairs also donated their time and talents: Van H. Beckwith, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Halliburton; Jerry Clements, partner with Locke Lord LLP; Erin Nealy Cox, partner with Kirkland & Ellis; Monica Karuturi, executive vice president and general counsel at CenterPoint Energy; David R. McAtee II, senior executive vice president and general counsel for AT&T Inc.; Ross R. Moody, The Moody Foundation; Stephen C. Mount, senior vice president and corporate law and chief compliance officer with H-E-B; Hilary L. Preston, vice chair of Vinson & Elkins LLP; Sandra Phillips Rogers, senior vice president, general counsel and chief legal officer of Toyota Motor North America; Justice Dale Wainwright, shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP; and Carlos M. Zaffirini, Jr., president and CEO of Adelanto HealthCare Ventures.

Harriet E. Miers, of Locke Lord LLP, is chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission.

Over 5.4 million Texans – or 1 in 6 Texans – qualify for civil legal aid, but only 8% of the legal needs are met due to inadequate funding. Legal aid organizations help more than 100,000 Texas families each year.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas 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. The commission has created several initiatives to increase resources and awareness of legal aid. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.

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