News Release

Texas Access to Justice Foundation
September 16, 2009

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Names 2009 Equal Justice Works Fellows

AUSTIN, Texas   The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, in partnership with Equal Justice Works, has named its 2009 Fellows: Sarah Bellinger, Jessica Cassidy, Abigail Frank, and Patricia Freshwater.

Equal Justice Works Fellowships is the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the nation. The organization uses an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to identifying and addressing critically needed legal services. Every year, hundreds of talented law school graduates apply to Equal Justice Works having designed their “dream job” with a nonprofit organization that has agreed to host the applicant if awarded a fellowship.  Sponsors then review project proposals and select candidates that meet general criteria or otherwise complement their philanthropic and pro bono interests.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, as part of its commitment to ensuring access to justice for the poor, has sponsored these innovative fellowship projects in Texas since 2002.  These fellowships begin in September and are for two years.

Sarah Bellinger

Host Organization: Advocacy, Inc., Houston

Issue area: Education/Special Education, Disability Rights, Children/Youth

William and Mary School of Law, 2009


Prior to attending law school, Bellinger was a social worker in Houston.  She realized that she wanted to be the best possible advocate for her clients, especially those with disabilities, and decided to go to law school to enhance her advocacy skills and become more familiar with the law in an effort to continue to fight for the rights of children with disabilities in schools.   Her fellowship project involves creating a Special Education Clinic composed of private attorneys who will meet regularly with parents of children in need of special education services to educate them about substantive topics within special education law, practical advocacy tips, and methods of resolving disputes under IDEA. The result will be a sustainable pool of pro bono attorneys offering legal advice and services to parents of children with disabilities. She will also be providing direct representation and performing community outreach.

Jessica Cassidy

Host Organization: Texas Advocacy Project, Austin

Issue area: Domestic Violence

The University of Texas School of Law, 2009


From an early age, Cassidy prioritized the advocacy that all children ought to be free from instability, poverty and violence. Getting to know - and to learn from - survivors of domestic violence in adulthood strengthened that initial intuition.  Cassidy’s project is tied to economic survival, which often leads abused women with children back to their batterers. Child support payments, credit reparation and financial literacy represent under-utilized tools for survivors' economic sustainability and advancement. Her project strives to develop the economic self-sufficiency of victims of domestic violence with children so that they do not need to return to their batterers for financial support.

Abigail Frank

Host Organization: Texas Civil Rights Project, Austin

Issue area: Civil Rights/Civil Liberties, Immigrant Populations, Domestic Violence

Georgetown University Law Center, 2009


The Texas Civil Rights Project’s program to help undocumented victims of domestic violence gain legal status under the Violence Against Women Act showed just how powerless so many women are when it comes to protecting themselves and their families from violence, particularly when an abuser has the advantages of language and citizenship on his side. “I would like to do what I can to make the odds better for these women by making the legal system more accessible,” Frank says.

Her project will educate judges and county policy makers about improving interpretation services and develop litigation with victims of domestic violence in counties that are less amenable to change.  Though Texas courts require language interpreters in criminal cases, the needs of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals in civil proceedings go unmet. Often, LEP victims of domestic violence are given little information about legal proceedings in which they are participants, even when child custody, divorce, or family safety is at stake.

Patricia “Tricia” Freshwater

Host Organization: Catholic Charities of Dallas
Issue area:  Civil Rights/Civil Liberties, Immigrant Populations
University of Virginia School of Law, 2006

While working on an asylum case the summer after her first year of law school, Freshwater was struck by the vulnerability of immigrants who are detained.  She realized that even educated clients have a difficult time navigating our complex immigration system without the assistance of an attorney.  The goal of her fellowship project is to bring legal services to immigrants who have been detained and are currently in removal proceedings.  Specifically, it will involve educating immigrants and their families regarding their rights, providing legal representation to immigrants unable to afford private counsel, and training and mentoring volunteer attorneys to provide immigration representation. 

The law firm of Baker & McKenzie is co-sponsoring Freshwater’s Fellowship.

Continuing Fellows from the 2008 Fellowship class sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation are:  Colleen Wisdom, Advocacy, Inc., Lubbock; Helena Coronado-Salazar, Equal Justice Center, Austin; and Amber Van Schuyver, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Weslaco.


The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (, 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 Texans each year.

Contact: Kimberly Schmitt
512-320-0099, ext. 104



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