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ALPINE, Texas – The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation honored the first recipient of the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award, Texas House Representative Pete P. Gallego, for his contributions to improving access to justice in Texas during a special presentation at the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid office in Alpine, Texas, on Sat., July 17.
As a leader in the House of Representatives on access to justice issues, including last session’s general appropriation of more than $20 million for civil legal services, Gallego has been an advocate for underserved areas throughout the state including those with vulnerable populations and remote locations. Gallego’s efforts helped ensure that basic legal services are available in rural and remote areas of the state, including Alpine, where people would otherwise have to travel great distances to access those services.
“Pete Gallego is a hero to the cause of access to justice. He understands the importance of making sure that low-income Texans in rural areas and every part of the state can get legal services when needed,” Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Supreme Court of Texas liaison, said. “His voice in the Legislature is clear and strong, and we are grateful for his help.”
“Representative Gallego has been a great supporter in expanding civil access to justice throughout the state, and it’s our pleasure to name him the first recipient of the Texas Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award,” Richard L. Tate, chair of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said. “Because of Representative Gallego’s hard work and dedication, hundreds of low-income West Texans do not have to face difficult situations without legal representation.
With more than 5.3 million Texans qualifying for legal aid, 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.
“It’s an honor to receive the Legislative Hero Award by the Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation,” Gallego said. “There is still a great need for civil services, but we have a long way to go and much work to be done. I look forward to continuing the battle to provide all Texans with equal access to justice.”
Gallego, the first Hispanic to represent District 74, has served on the Texas Access to Justice Foundation board of directors since 1996. Gallego was elected in 1990 to represent the largest House district and the largest Texas U.S.-Mexico border district covering nearly 39,000 square miles. In the Legislature, he is an expert in appropriations, law enforcement, criminal justice, campaign finance and victims’ rights. Gallego is chair of the Committee of Criminal Jurisprudence and member of the Committees on General Investigating and State Affairs.
The Texas Access to Justice Commission assists legal aid organizations to help more than 100,000 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 11,512 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 100,000 Texans each year.