Texas Law Celebrates Pro Bono Week

Expunction Project work session

The Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program participated in the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Celebration by sponsoring a number of events during the week of October 23-29 to highlight the role of Texas Law in delivering pro bono legal services.

On October 24, the Mithoff Program continued its tradition of featuring successful pro bono collaborations between nonprofit organizations and private law firms during the Annual Celebrate Pro Bono Luncheon. Susman Godfrey managing partner Neal Manne ’80, Harris County Assistant Public Defender Genesis Draper ’06, and Susanne Pringle of the Texas Fair Defense Project participated in the luncheon panel “Pro Bono for Freedom: Ending Monetary Bail for Misdemeanor Arrests in Houston.” Susman Godfrey and TFDP, along with the Civil Rights Corps, represent the plaintiff class in O’Donnell v. Harris County, a successful challenge to a pretrial detention system that jailed individuals accused of misdemeanors because they could not afford to pay monetary bail. The plaintiffs in O’Donnell obtained a preliminary injunction in June 2017 striking down wealth-based detention for lower-level offenses. As a result, more than 2,500 people have been released on personal bond. Draper discussed how the injunction has affected her office’s representation of low-income people accused of criminal offenses. Individuals released on personal bond under the injunction no longer face pressure to plead guilty, regardless of their actual guilt, in order to obtain release from pretrial detention subject to bond amounts they cannot afford to pay.

Pro bono trip to Karnes family detention center

The Mithoff Program also co-sponsored Stephen Bright’s lecture, “No Equal Justice: the Urgent Crisis in America’s Criminal Courts,” on October 26, and student pro bono leaders were available in the Susman Godfrey Atrium to answer questions about the upcoming Pro Bono in January trip to the Rio Grande Valley. Over 80 students applied to participate in the 2018 trip.

Texas Law students also participated in a number of pro bono projects and trainings during the National Pro Bono Celebration. Students assisted asylum seekers detained in the Hutto and Karnes City immigration detention facilities; counseled young adults transitioning out of special education programs about alternatives to guardianship; volunteered at the Austin Bar Association’s Veterans Legal Advice Clinic; and drafted wills, petitions for expunction and non-disclosure of criminal records, and petitions for name and gender marker changes. Over 100 Texas Law students participated in pro bono projects and trainings during the week, donating over 400 hours of pro bono service.