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Award recognizes dedication to access to justice
District 21 Texas Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo has been honored with the “Friend of the Judiciary” award by the State Bar of Texas Judicial Section.
The award was made in a virtual ceremony in late September.
Sen. Zaffirini’s membership on the Texas Judicial Council and on the Texas Access to Justice Commission provide opportunities to develop and propose judicial reforms in the Texas Legislature, the organization noted in a prepared statement last week, adding that she has notably passed bills preventing cronyism and corruption, promoting access to justice, protecting persons under guardianship, and improving courthouse security.
The senator has also collaborated with judges at all levels, ranging from the Supreme Court to Justices of the Peace, to pass legislation eliminating debtors’ prisons, enhancing competency restorations procedures, restructuring criminal and civil case fees and reforming the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
“Giving all Texans equal access to our justice system is essential to a healthy and functioning democracy,” Sen. Zaffirini said. “We must remove barriers, address inequities and enact reforms to enable our court system to truly administer justice for all.”
An effective judicial system is especially important during emergencies, the senator noted. Hurricane Harvey, for example, displaced thousands of persons and destroyed many courtrooms, delaying court proceedings indefinitely. Accordingly, she passed Senate Bill (SB) 40, which relocates courts to the safest and most convenient location following a natural disaster.
“The pandemic presented yet another emergency for our justice system,” Sen. Zaffirini wrote. “Virtual hearings were implemented in many courtrooms to allow proceedings to continue without risking the safety of court personnel.”
After receiving positive feedback from defendants, lawyers and judges who said they appreciated the flexibility and increased attendance presented by the new medium, the senator filed SB 690, which would have authorized judges to continue to hold virtual hearings even after the pandemic ends. Unfortunately, it did not pass, but she intends to file the bill anew next session.
Sen. Zaffirini’s courtroom security act, SB 42, was passed in the wake of the attempted assassination of Austin’s District Judge Julie Kocurek.
“Anticipating and adapting to changing circumstances will preclude future
miscarriages of justice in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency,” she said. “All Texans deserve equal access to justice, no matter the circumstances.”