Spring 2022 Updates

Here's some key highlights of our achievements since the beginning of the year:

Here are just some of TFDP's key achievements since the beginning of the year:

Pro Bono Program

Success Stories: A pro bono attorney assisted a client who has had her license suspended for over a decade by handling 11 citations in 3 different jurisdictions, getting all but one ticket outright dismissed in the span of a little over 2 months. Courts waived $5,120.00 in fines and costs and our client is on her way to having a driver’s license for the first time in more than 10 years. See how you can support our pro bono program!

This quarter, Pro Bono Attorney John Zappia (Sidley Austin) closed out TFDP’s first criminal record clearing case through the Pro Bono Program! After successfully petitioning for Harris County expunction, John had this to say about the Pro Bono Program: “I enjoyed my time working with the Texas Fair Defense Project. All of the necessary information was provided in the record clearing roadmap and Sarah [Mae] always made herself available to answer questions. [...] TFDP was very responsive to my questions, provided clear directions and was a great organization to work with. [...] Please keep me informed of any future opportunities to work with your clients. Many of my colleagues are also interested in getting involved in pro bono matters after hearing about the success of [my client’s] case.”

Class C & Driver Licenses: Since the beginning of this year, TFDP's Managing Attorney of Client Services Karly Jo Dixon has had 58 cases dismissed for 48 clients. Among these clients, 18 have also fully recovered their ability to drive legally with over $22,000 of criminal legal debt waived or dismissed.

Probation Services: Equal Justice Works Fellow Harjeen Zibari has opened 5 new cases this quarter to address probation costs and early terminations. She successfully helped 1 client terminate their probation early, avoided probation extensions for 3, and waived an additional $12,383.00 in fines, fees, and restitution.

Record Restoration: Pro Bono Program Director Sarah Mae Jennings has closed out 20 cases this quarter. Sarah Mae also worked with Pro Bono Attorney Sam Bragg (Alston & Bird) to file an appellate brief with the Third Court of Appeals in Austin on behalf of a client who successfully petitioned for expunction at the trial court level.

Reimagining Public Safety

As a part of the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, we recently helped to defeat the creation of a City Marshal’s Office, which would have resulted in a new law enforcement agency at our municipal courts. We are currently working with a diverse coalition to promote a city budget process that values community input and participation, and directs dollars to the services most needed by the community. See how you can support our collaborative work!

Advocacy, Education, and Policy

Ability to Pay Guidance: Harjeen Zibari also used her knowledge from direct representation to complete an Ability to Pay Guidance for current judges and practitioners. The Guidance covers the current statutory scheme surrounding fines and fees in criminal cases, as well as the mandatory ability to pay determination requirement that was implemented with the passage of SB 1373 . The State Bar Committee for Legal Services for the Poor in Criminal Matters (“LSP”) voted unanimously to adopt it, and now the Guidance awaits approval from the LSP’s supervisory board.

Trainings: Sarah Mae Jennings developed and presented two criminal record clearing CLE trainings this quarter: one on determining criminal record clearing eligibility and one on drafting criminal record clearing petitions. Sarah Mae and Karly Jo Dixon held three Class C ticket and Driver’s License Recovery CLE trainings in March and April for law firms and the TFDP Pro Bono Program--and the two also continue to facilitate a monthly Legal Aid Class C Huddle with practitioners across the state.

Advocacy Fellows: As part of our commitment to center the voices of directly impacted community members in our work, we have successfully launched a second cohort of Advocacy Fellows. Advocacy Fellows are provided stipends and advocacy training in exchange for their expertise and time spent on advocacy projects. This quarter, we were able to add 3 new Fellows and retained 3 Fellows from the year before who were eager to stay on and fight to end the criminalization of poverty in Texas. We are excited to co-learn, build and win with our advocacy fellows over the next two years. See how you can support our fellows!