Texas Law Fellowships has announced the recipients of the 2012 Excellence in Public Interest Awards. They are: Ian Spechler, ‘07, founder of the Legal Representation for Dually Managed Youth Project; David Gonzalez, founding partner of a sliding-scale criminal defense firm in Austin; UT Law Clinical Professors Bill Allison and Patricia Cummings of the Criminal Defense Clinic, who are being recognized for their work on the Michael Morton case; and Jordan Pollock, a third-year UT Law student.
Each year, Texas Law Fellowships (TLF) recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of public-interest law by honoring at least one public-sector attorney, one private-sector attorney, one law professor, and one law student with this award.
- Ian Spechler graduated with a BA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and a JD from the University of Texas School of Law in 2007. He began his legal career with Advocacy Inc. (which has since been renamed Disability Rights Texas), as a Skadden Fellow representing children receiving inappropriate or inadequate special education services. In January 2010, he began his current project, the Legal Representation for Dually Managed Youth Project, at Disability Rights Texas. He and two other lawyers, Dustin Rynders in Houston and Alison MacManus in Dallas, represent foster children with disabilities in the justice system or State Supported Living Centers. He represents the youth in court and advocates for them to receive better access to mental health, education, and other resources and supports to help them avoid long-term institutionalization. He also frequently delivers presentations on representing foster children with disabilities to lawyers, judges, caseworkers, and others who work with foster children or the justice system. The project is funded generously by the Supreme Court of Texas, the Meadows Foundation, and the Rees Jones Foundation.
- David Gonzalez is the founding partner of Sumpter & Gonzalez, a criminal defense firm whose commitment to social justice involves defending against serious criminal accusations for both private and indigent clients. The firm’s mission is to serve clients beyond the legal issues of their case and work to address the underlying reasons a client is involved in the criminal justice system. The vision of Sumpter & Gonzalez is simple: getting arrested should be the beginning of a new perspective in life, not the end of it. In 2011 and 2010, Sumpter & Gonzalez was a finalist in the Austin Chamber of Commerce Awards in the “Innovation” category. In 2008, Gonzalez was awarded the Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year award by the Austin Young Lawyers Association, and was a finalist in the American Bar Association’s National Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year and in the Austin Under 40 Awards. Gonzalez graduated from Dartmouth College and Stanford Law School.
- William P. Allison is a clinical professor at the Law School. He is director of the Criminal Defense Clinic and codirector and cofounder of the Actual Innocence Clinic. Allison practiced law in Austin for thirty-two years before rejoining the Law School faculty, of which twenty-seven were spent as a supervising attorney in the Criminal Defense Clinic. He was the original defense attorney for Michael Morton, who was recently exonerated and released from prison. After Morton was convicted of his wife’s murder in 1987, Allison encouraged the Innocence Project of New York to take Morton’s case. Morton was released in 2011 based on exculpatory DNA evidence and the withholding of exculpatory evidence from trial attorneys Bill Allison and Bill White. Allison grew up in Beaumont and graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and the University of Texas School Of Law. He is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Law, has been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America, was honored by the State Bar of Texas as Outstanding Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year, 2000-2001, was selected as a “Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly before retiring from private practice, and won the 2005 EPIA for his work starting the Actual Innocence Clinic. He is also a retired United States Naval officer, and served an in-country tour with the River Patrol Forces and part of a second tour as an advisor to the Republic of South Vietnam Navy. During the 1990s, Allison served as editor in chief of Voice for the Defense, the monthly magazine for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, was president of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and taught a Plan II undergraduate course called Franz Kafka and the Systems of Punishment. Bill took the 2002 school year off to work with Professor Bob Dawson and Clinical Professor David Sheppard to design, write, and begin teaching the Actual Innocence Clinic at the Law School. To date, the professors and their students have achieved six exonerations for men all serving life sentences for terrible crimes they did not commit. They also won in excess of $20 million for these exonerees.
- Patricia Cummings received her BA from the University of Texas at Austin and her JD from the University of Houston. After law school, she clerked for Texas appellate court judges Larry Fuller and Richard Barajas and then worked in Williamson County as a juvenile prosecutor. She is now in private practice, specializing in criminal and juvenile defense. Cummings joined the University of Texas School of Law Criminal Defense Clinic in 2002, and in 2005 she started work on the Michael Morton case. In the early stages of the post-conviction litigation to obtain DNA testing, Cummings provided key insight into Williamson County practice from her experience as a Williamson County prosecutor. Morton was exonerated and released from prison in 2011. Cummings is board certified in criminal law and juvenile law. She has served on the Juvenile Law Exam Commission for five years, and is currently chair of the Commission. Patricia has served as the president of the Bar Association in Williamson County and has done extensive pro bono and court-appointed work in criminal defense. Patricia was selected as a “Super Lawyer” for Texas Monthly in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, and as a “Rising Star” in 2005 and 2006.
- Jordan Pollock is a cum laude graduate of Duke University, where she majored in Spanish and Italian with a certificate in Latin American Studies. She ran an adult ESL program that served low-income immigrants in the local community. Following graduation, Pollock studied in Argentina and worked as an immigration paralegal at the New York Legal Assistance Group. Since coming to the University of Texas School of Law, Pollock has volunteered at American Gateways and the Equal Justice Center, interned at the ACLU of Southern California and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and has worked, in some capacity, in the immigration clinic all six semesters of law school. In the immigration clinic, Pollock has gone to a final hearing on two cases, one in which the client was granted asylum and another in which the client was granted cancellation of removal, allowing her to stay in the country with her three minor children. Pollock is currently co-president of the Public Interest Law Association at UT Law, and plans to continue her immigration work in Los Angeles, California, following graduation.
An awards ceremony for the recipients was held March 25, 2012, at the home of Bill and Stephanie Whitehurst. Bill Whitehurst is an Austin attorney and has been the professional mentor for TLF since 1988.