News Release

Texas Access to Justice Foundation 
May 28, 2013

Texas Legislature Provides Funding for the State's Legal Aid System
"Chief Justice Jack Pope Act" to Increase Funds for Civil Legal Aid


AUSTIN, Texas — As the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature closed, $17.6 million in state general revenue has been appropriated for civil legal aid. In addition, Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 1445, the “Chief Justice Jack Pope Act,” into law today, increasing the funds dedicated to legal aid for indigent Texans from civil penalties and civil restitution recovered by the Texas Attorney General.

The House and Senate budget bills (HB 1 and SB 1) included $13 million for legal aid in the Texas Supreme Court budget. The Texas Supreme Court requested an exceptional item that restores $4.6 million in general revenue back to the budget that was cut during the last legislative session.

“On behalf of the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, we would like to thank our state legislators for supporting critical legislation that will continue to provide resources for poor Texans struggling to survive,” Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison for access to justice issues, said. “The civil justice system must be available to every Texan, regardless of their means.”

Starting in June, HB 1445 will provide increased funds for legal aid through expanded Texas Attorney General civil penalties. At the recommendations of Sen. Robert Duncan and Reps. Dan Branch and Senfronia Thompson, the legal aid funding bill was named the “Chief Justice Jack Pope Act.” Chief Justice Pope, who turned 100 years old in April, signed the Supreme Court order creating Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) nearly 30 years ago. IOLTA is a method to fund legal aid by collecting interest on lawyers’ trusts accounts and using that money for grants to legal aid providers in Texas.

“We are grateful for the diligent efforts led by Sen. Duncan and Rep. Thompson. In addition, we are indebted to all of the authors, including Sens. John Carona and Bob Deuell and Reps. John Davis, Sarah Davis, Elliott Naishtat, and Sylvester Turner and co-authors Joe Farias and Eddie Lucio III, to secure supplemental funding through the Pope Act,” Hecht said.

“Access to the justice system is vital to our civilized society based on the rule of law,” Sen. Robert Duncan said. “I am proud to play a part in helping provide civil legal services for those in need including veterans, elderly and victims of domestic violence.”

“Civil legal aid often makes a life-changing difference for disadvantaged Texans. I’m happy to join in this bipartisan effort to increase funding for basic civil legal services for those who cannot otherwise afford it,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson said. “When I think of the life of Justice Jack Pope, I am reminded of Proverbs 19:17, which states, ‘Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.’ Justice Pope’s rich contribution and dedication to the justice system is a testimony to his commitment to the principle of justice for all Texans by starting the first permanent funding source for legal aid here in Texas.”

The maintenance of state funding is now more critical than before due to the effects of federal funding cuts that are severely impacting Texas programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). In Texas, the three largest providers of civil legal services – Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid – have had a combined reduction of more than $1.3 million in LSC funding. This is in addition to the $6.1 million annualized loss that began in 2011 resulting in significantly fewer services available to those most in need. LSC funding comprises approximately one-third of the funding for legal aid in Texas.

The legal aid system in Texas annually provides more than 100,000 families with basic civil legal services in times of desperate need. To qualify for legal aid, an individual must not earn more than $14,363 a year. For a family of four, the household income cannot exceed $29,438. Approximately 5.7 million Texans currently qualify for legal aid.

 

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The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources and awareness of legal aid. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (www.teajf.org), created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the primary state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texas families each year.

 

Contact: Kimberly Schmitt
512-320-0099, ext. 104
kschmitt@teajf.org

 

 

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