For her contributions to developing San Antonio’s Community Justice Program, 4th Court of Appeals Justice Phylis Speedlin (pictured) has become the first to win a new State Bar of Texas award honoring judges’ pro bono achievements.
The State Bar will present Speedlin with the inaugural Judge Merrill Hartman Pro Bono Judge Award on June 14 at its Annual Meeting in Houston.
“I’m very humbled and very appreciative of the recognition, mostly because it’s a great program, and maybe now it’ll get a lot more attention,” Speedlin says about the Community Justice Program, noting that many people contributed to the program’s success.
About 10 years ago, Speedlin and 407th District Judge Karen Pozza organized a group of bar leaders, court reporters, district clerks and legal-aid attorneys to develop the program to make it easier for San Antonio lawyers to find pro bono clients.
The program now offers three to four monthly clinics, each with 20 or more volunteer attorneys providing legal services for 20 to 40 indigent clients. Paralegals, district clerks and judges also attend to help move cases along. Family law attorneys mentor other lawyer-volunteers in family law cases, which comprise 90 percent of the program’s work, and the volunteers earn continuing-legal-education credits.
“We could serve more people throughout the state of Texas if other bar associations would adopt the model,” Speedlin says, adding that judges must provide leadership to make it work.
Five others will receive State Bar Pro Bono Awards this year: The Frank J. Scurlock Award goes to John O'Connor, an associate with Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas; Patton Boggs’ Dallas office will receive the W. Frank Newton Award; Human Rights Initiative's William O. Holston, Jr. Pro Bono Program in Dallas will receives the Pro Bono Award; Pete J. Fierro of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas in Midland will receive the Pro Bono Coordinator Award; Mickey Baden of the Houston Bar Foundation Veterans Legal Initiative and Julie Balovich of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Alpine will each receive a J. Chrys Dougherty Legal Services Award.
-- Angela Morris