Texas Access to Justice Foundation Honors Senators, Representative, and Former Justice at Luncheon
Texas Access to Justice Foundation honors senators, representative, and former justice at luncheon
AUSTIN, Texas –– The Texas Access to Justice Foundation hosted a luncheon with the Supreme Court of Texas, October 25, to address the increasing need to expand access to justice for low-income Texans. At the luncheon, The Texas Access to Justice Foundation and Commission honored Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Texas Sen. Joan Huffman, and State Rep. Mary González with the Legislative Hero Award for their dedicated contributions to improving access to justice in Texas. Former Supreme Court Justice and TAJF liaison Eva Guzman was also awarded the Kleinman Award for her leadership and contributions to public service in communities throughout Texas. Awards were presented by Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht.
“The individuals we recognized today have brought a wealth of knowledge in civic service and leadership to the important mission of helping shape the future of Texas,” Deborah Hankinson, chair of the board of directors of TAJF said. “These Texas leaders have continuously embodied excellence, wisdom and integrity, and we are honored to recognize them for helping ensure our justice system is available to all.”
The Texas Access to Justice Foundation and Commission launched the Legislative Hero Award program in 2010 to recognize legislators who, through their efforts, have significantly advanced access to justice in Texas by assisting with the appropriation of funds and/or other substantive activities related to the provision of legal aid in the state.
Established by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation in 1995, the Kleinman Award, named for the Foundation’s first chairman, Harold F. Kleinman, is awarded to individuals whose outstanding character, commitment and public service to the people of Texas make them true leaders in access to civil justice. The Kleinman Award is not given annually but only when an individual’s legislative and advocating efforts reflect exceptional leadership.
Former Supreme Court Justice Guzman made history by becoming not only the first Latina to be elected to the Supreme Court of Texas, but also the first to be elected to statewide office in Texas. Twice over, Guzman made history when receiving the most votes ever in a Texas Republican Party primary with 1.27 million votes and winning the re-election in November with a record-setting 4.88 million votes—the highest vote total for any office in Texas election history.
Guzman’s commitment to legal excellence has been recognized by national, state, and local organizations. Her numerous honors and awards include: the National Hispanic Bar Association’ Lifetime Achievement Award and Latina Judge of the Year, the Texas Executive Women’s Women on the Move® Award and many more. Over the span of 22 years, she served at three levels of the Texas judiciary–with more than half of those years as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Texas–and has ruled over thousands of cases.
Annually, former Justice Guzman met with the Texas congressional delegation and was an advocate for additional funding for disadvantaged Texans. She has worked on the Children’s Commission to ensure fair treatment for children in the Texas foster care system and was the founder of the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health. She served as the face of TAJF’s Legal Aid for Sexual Assault Survivors program, funded by the Texas Legislature, and successfully worked to generate increased funding for Texas veterans. As a prior liaison for TAJF, former Justice Guzman authored several op-ed pieces, participated in media interviews and videos, and addressed constituents at numerous meetings and events about the legal needs of low-income Texans.
“I am honored to receive the prestigious Kleinman award for helping ensure access to justice for disadvantaged Texans,” Guzman said. “Part of my life’s work–and hopefully my legacy–is to help lead Texas proudly into the future, by mentoring and supporting those in need. I remain dedicated to advancing the rule of law for all Texans, not just those that have the means to afford it.”
Sen. Zaffirini (D-Laredo) represents the 21st Senatorial District. She is the first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas Senate, the second highest-ranking senator, and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator. She is now a current member of the Judicial Council and the Texas Access to Justice Commission.
Sen. Zaffirini has received more than 1,100 awards and honors for her legislative, public service, and professional work. She has been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame by Gov. Abbott, named the State Bar of Texas Judicial Section’s Friend of the Judiciary in 2021, and honored with the Laredo-Webb County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell award in 2022. Her work ethic is reflected in her 100% voting record, having cast 67,923 consecutive votes and passed more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas. Sen. Zaffrini carried bills that directed the Texas Supreme Court to develop standardized plain language forms for landlord-tenant issues, which enhances a tenant’s ability to represent themselves and assert any rights. She is also responsible for bills that directed TAJF to create probate forms, including simple wills, muniments of title, and small estate affidavits, which allow a greater number of Texans to transfer the legal title of their property. Additionally, Sen. Zaffrini carried a bill which requires courts to post a list of all legal aid providers and other statewide resources on their websites. Sen. Zaffirini carried bills related to guardianship reforms, which have had a significant impact on improving the guardianship system and allowed for greater flexibility in alternatives to guardianships.
Sen. Huffman has dedicated her career to upholding the rule of law, first as a Harris County prosecutor and a Criminal District Court Judge, and now as an effective voice in the Senate. She was first elected to the Texas Senate in 2008 and has been re-elected four times. She currently serves as Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, Chair of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and as a senior member of the Senate Committee on Administration and has a leadership position on the Legislative Budget Board.
Sen. Huffman’s noteworthy accolades include being named as the “2017 Hero for Texas Children” by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a “Big Voice for Little Texans” by CASA. The Senator is the only three-time recipient of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association’s “Law and Order Award” for her efforts to improve victims’ protections.
Sen. Huffman carried bills over various sessions with a common sense approach on how to deal with unnecessary probate for assets like a home and vehicle. Her bills created the Transfer On Death Deed, allowing Texans to transfer real property upon their death outside the probate system without losing any rights during their lifetime. Additionally, she carried a bill to create the Vehicle Transfer on Death Deed, which allows people to transfer title to their vehicle outside the probate system to avoid costs and ensure proper title. Both these documents are now a standard part of practice, not just for low-income people. Countless families have been able to protect their homes and vehicles because of these bills. Along with other honorees, in the 87th legislative session, she worked to ensure that the $5 million in the statewide opioid settlement was included for basic civil legal services.
State Rep. Gonazález represents House District 75, encompassing the fastest growing parts of El Paso and the towns of Horizon City, San Elizario, Socorro, Clint, Fabens, and Tornillo. She currently serves on the Public Education Committee and is vice chair of the Appropriations Committee. Known nationally, Rep. González was also elected Vice Chair of the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs. She currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Appropriations Committee and Chair of Article I, IV and V Appropriation Subcommittees. She is on the Public Education Committee and is Vice Chair of the Local and Consent Calendars Committee. Significantly, the Representative also serves on the Legislative Budget Board.
Throughout her time as a State Representative, she has authored numerous bills to help advance the public school system, increase economic development and support agriculture in House District 75 and across Texas. State Rep. Gonzalez has been recognized by Latino Leaders Magazine for her leadership in education, was recognized as one of ten “Next Generation Latinas” by Latina Magazine, and as one of the 10 newly-elected politicians to watch in the nation by NBC Latino.
During the 87th legislative session, former Justice Guzman first called upon her seeking to have legal aid be included in the opioid settlement. When a family member is experiencing substance use disorder, it can affect more than just the person in need of recovery. As a result, many may require family intervention and temporary guardianship of dependents. She was able to ensure that $5 million was secured for legal aid for families dealing with an opiate disorder. With this funding, Texas Legal Aid will provide assistance to Texas families struggling with issues such as evictions, foreclosures, domestic violence and expunctions.
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