I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the activities and efforts of the Texas Center on your behalf under the leadership of our Chair, Justice Gina Benavides, and our Board of Directors. But first I want to thank you for your tremendous support of the Texas Center – not only through your exceptionally generous financial donations but also through the contribution of your invaluable time, energy and ideas, all of which have made the Texas Center a stronger and better organization. Your active participation in the Texas Center makes an enormous difference in the services we are able to offer. I cannot thank you enough for your dedication and commitment to this organization!
Due to the outstanding work of our Curriculum Committee, chaired by Judge Chris Oldner, and with the exceptional assistance of our Program Attorney, Courtney Gabriele, the Texas Center continues its long tradition of offering outstanding judicial education programs to Texas judges. So far this year we have conducted two Winter Regional Conferences in San Antonio, the Implicit Bias Conference in Austin, the Family Violence Conference in Galveston, a DWI Court “Operational Tune Up” Conference in Houston and the Texas College for Judicial Studies in Austin. And we have had record attendance at these programs with a total of 854 judges participating altogether! That translates to a total of 8,198 hours of judicial education in the first 14 weeks of 2012! If we continue at this pace (and one glance at our schedule of upcoming conferences gives every indication that we will: http://www.yourhonor.com/tcj-programs/Conferences), the Texas Center will provide 30,450 hours of first rate judicial education this year!
I am also pleased to report that we are currently updating the Texas Bench Book under the leadership of Judge George Gallagher and with the hard work and dedication of your Bench Book Committee. To assist in this process we have enlisted the help of the University of Texas School of Law which has provided seven law students to conduct legal research and work directly with the judges on the Committee. Our goal is not only to update the Bench Book but also to make it as user friendly and helpful as possible. We expect to complete the revised Bench Book within a few months.
Another important initiative is the work of the Judicial Resources Committee under Justice Lee Gabriel of the Second Court of Appeals. The committee is currently reviewing how we can enhance judicial resources and make meaningful resources more readily available to all Texas judges. We will be contacting you in the near future to solicit your input and suggestions.
We are also beginning a review of the direction and mission of the Texas Center in the coming years through the Long Range Planning Committee chaired by Chief Justice Sherry Radack of the First Court of Appeals. And we will again be soliciting your input as the Committee conducts an assessment of the Texas Center and make recommendations to guide us in the coming decade.
In order to keep you better informed about our programs and to provide you with greater access to more resources we have recently updated and expanded the Texas Center website: http://www.yourhonor.com/. You can now view and register for upcoming conferences online, subscribe to News Alerts and Opinion Alerts, check your CJE hours directly, read current and past issues of In Chambers, review Texas Center policies and Board minutes, and access six separate bench books and many other useful judicial resources. We will continue to add other features and links in the coming months.
The Texas Center is extremely fortunate to have Judge Mark Atkinson as its Judicial Resource Liaison with the Texas Department of Transportation. As many of you know, Judge Atkinson served for 24 years as the Judge of Criminal County Court at Law No. 13 in Harris County where he presided over more than 100,000 criminal cases, including 20,000 DWI cases. While on the bench Judge Atkinson implemented innovative DWI sentencing practices, particularly with regard to repeat offenders, many of which were adopted by DWI Courts. Judge Atkinson has now brought this wealth of experience and knowledge to the Texas Center and together with our TxDOT Program Director, Holly Doran, and our DWI Curriculum Committee, chaired by Judge Patrice McDonald, has developed exceptionally valuable programs that show judges how to create a DWI Court and how to deal with the many issues and challenges they face. Judge Atkinson’s work has become known outside Texas and he has recently been invited to conferences in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Wyoming to explain the “Texas model” for the benefit of other states who are interested in following our lead. Judge Atkinson and Ms. Doran have created a DWI Resource site within the Texas Center website to provide valuable information and resources to Texas judges: http://www.yourhonor.com/dwi/. Please visit this site to learn more about DWI resources available through the Texas Center, including the DWI newsletter: http://www.yourhonor.com/dwi/news/newsletter.
The Texas Center also administers a federal grant under the Children’s Justice Act which is designed to bring together child-protection and criminal justice experts to improve the state's response to cases of child abuse and neglect. Specifically, the grant is provided to assist states in (1) developing programs and procedures designed to reduce the trauma to child victims of abuse, especially child sexual abuse, (2) improving the chances of successful prosecution or legal action against child abusers and molesters, and (3) improving procedures for protecting children from abuse. To be eligible for CJA funding, states are required to establish a multidisciplinary Task Force to make recommendations regarding reforms needed to improve the state’s response to child sexual abuse in each of these three areas. The current Chair of the Task Force is Judge Dean Rucker and Judge Chris Oldner also serves as a member of the Task Force. Under the direction of the Task Force, our CJA Program Director, Ginny Woods, and our CJA Program Administrator, Heidi Penix, are currently undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the program to recommend the direction of the program over the next three years. Please visit the CJA Program website to learn more about this vitally important program: http://www.texascja.org/
The Texas Center has a dedicated and very hard working staff who are eager to help you perform your judicial responsibilities at the highest level. Please call us, email us or come by to see us when you are in Austin and let us know how we can better support you in the important work you do for the citizens of Texas. We look forward to seeing you at one or more of our upcoming judicial conferences!
Randall L. Sarosdy