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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 5, 2012
Contact: Kimberly Schmitt, Communications Manager
512-320-0099 x 104, cell 512-944-4021, kschmitt@teajf.org

Texas Senator José Rodríguez Receives Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation honored Senator José Rodríguez with the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award for his contributions to improving access to justice in Texas during a special presentation in El Paso on April 4.   Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison for access to justice issues, presented the award to Senator Rodríguez during the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s Art Show.

After several months of leading the charge in the Texas Legislature to fund legal aid, Senator José Rodríguez was successful in persuading Senate leadership to secure funding for basic civil legal services. Through his extraordinary leadership, Senator Rodríguez has helped improve access to justice for those vulnerable Texans unable to pay for legal assistance from private attorneys.  

“Senator Rodriguez’s unwavering support in the Legislature helps many struggling Texans receive assistance with basic civil legal services; help that is essential to the integrity of the rule of law,” Justice Hecht said. “Hard economic times both increase the need for legal services and decrease financial support, and we are grateful for the Senator’s tremendous work and support as we continue to provide access to justice to Texans in need.”

"I am incredibly honored and humbled to receive this award. Last session, we worked hard to ensure funding for legal aid and indigent defense, but the fight is far from over. Even with this funding; only one in five Texans in need of legal help - veterans, victims of domestic violence, and senior citizens - are being served. During the next legislative session, I will continue to work diligently to find a stable source of revenue for these critical legal services. If we don't do something to fix this funding crisis, many in need will be denied their fundamental, constitutional right to access the courts," Senator José Rodríguez said.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation 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.

Senator José Rodríguez, an attorney who has devoted his life to public service, was elected to serve the people of Senate District 29 in the Texas State Senate in November 2010.  The son of migrant farm workers, Senator Rodríguez graduated from Pan American University in Edinburg and received his law degree from the National Law Center at George Washington University.
Senator Rodríguez began his 37-year legal career as a staff attorney with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. He practiced law with the firm of Rodriguez, Lewis & Collins and worked for 10 years as a staff attorney and director of the farm worker program of Texas Rural Legal Aid, Inc, a statewide legal services program.

Immediately prior to his service in the Texas Senate, Senator Rodríguez served as the El Paso County Attorney for 17 years, where he established an unequaled record of achievement, enhancing legal services to protect vulnerable citizens and prevent crime, increasing County revenues and funding for jobs and economic development, and strengthening community health and environmental quality.

That level of service to his community continues today as a member of the Texas State Senate. During the 82nd Legislative Session and subsequent 1st Called Special Session, Senator Rodríguez became widely known as a staunch advocate for those in need, especially those seeking help through legal aid and indigent defense programs.   As a freshman legislator, Senator Rodríguez filed more than seventy pieces of legislation and passed forty-one. His hard work and tenacity on the Senate floor gained him numerous accolades, including being named "Freshman MVP" by the highly regarded online publication, Capitol Inside.

Legal aid organizations funded by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation help more than 120,000 low-income Texas families each year with their civil legal needs. Yet, for every person who is helped with legal aid, a qualifying Texan is denied assistance due to a lack of resources. Currently, only one legal aid lawyer is available to provide assistance for every 11,152 Texans who qualify.

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 120,000 Texas families each year.

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