Stewart says he got involved with MADD back when he was a defense attorney in products liability cases.
“I looked on the docket and saw a number of DWI-related cases that were on the products liability docket,” he says. “Even as a defense attorney, I was aghast at the number of people who make the unwise decision to drink and drive.”
After seeing the number of DWI cases on his docket, Stewart says he began volunteering with MADD.
“I stepped up and volunteered,” he says. “I volunteered my time to speak with victim impact panels.”
Stewart says in Texas, when someone gets a DWI or commits another alcohol-related offense, judges require the person to attend a victim impact panel where volunteers talk about the impact those offenses have on others.
“I talk to them about the impact of drinking and driving from a civil-impact standpoint,” Stewart says. “I talk about insurance liability limits and how, even if they have insurance, if they wreak serious havoc they could be held personally responsible. We hopefully try to put fear in them.”
Later, after opening the Stewart Law Firm, which does plaintiffs’ work, Stewart says he saw the effects of drunk driving even more.
“We routinely pursue claims against drunk drivers,” he says. “I see the sheer magnitude of injury, harm and damage that comes from people’s conscious decision to drink and drive. We combat that as best we can by supporting MADD and doing pro bono work.”
In addition to the legal work the firm does to aid in MADD’s mission to stop drunk driving, Stewart says he and his firm support the organization in other ways.
“There is this thing here in Austin on special holidays called ‘no refusal,’ ” Stewart says. “If you’re driving in Austin and you’re arrested on suspicion of drinking and driving, if you don’t voluntarily submit, they have a judge on standby so the police can draw blood. Through law enforcement efforts and MADD efforts, there has been a decline in drunk-driving accidents during those times.”
“We show up with food and law firm water bottles to make life as easy and comfortable for guys and gals on the DWI enforcement team,” Stewart says.
Stewart says the firm also supports MADD by sponsoring events such as Run Like MADD, which recognizes and honors victims of drunk driving, and the Jingle Bell 5K run. He says the firm also participates in educational activities.
“We are the presenting sponsor for the Jingle Bell 5k this year; the whole firm will show up there,” Stewart says. “We give information about the dangers of drinking and driving. We talk to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and anyone we can to get the word out. We educate young kids about the inherent dangers of drinking and driving.”
Stewart says he is honored by the award. “This award was a 2012 Star Volunteer award held in conjunction with law enforcement appreciation,” Stewart says. “They go out of their way to recognize, pat the backs and applaud law enforcement. It was a real special honor to me to be honored at the same time.”
Stewart says the award he received was for the entirety of the work he and his firm do for MADD, not one particular event.
“We just want to do something to help,” he says.
Stewart says he takes great pride in his drunk-driving awareness efforts. “MADD is so underfunded, and I greatly appreciate the hard work they all do,” he says.
“When I graduated high school in ’84, I had kind of a negative connotation of MADD. I had this mental image of it being very angry moms,” Stewart says. “My involvement is such that now I’m aware that it’s anything but. They do great work to advocate for victims of drinking and driving, and they do great work to educate, particularly underage drinkers and drivers.”
— Christine Lesicko