HRF partners with law school

In its first partnership with a law school, Human Rights First, a nonprofit that provides pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers, will open an office in April at South Texas College of Law in Houston. The selection of South Texas as the location for the asylum clinic is due in part to a long working relationship with Dean Donald Guter, who started doing pro bono work with Human Rights First a decade ago when he was living and working on the East Coast. “Having Dean Guter as a friend has been really lucky for us,” said Jennifer Rizzo, national pro bono counsel for Human Rights First. Guter said the law school will provide office space for Human Rights First at cost. Guter, a former judge advocate general for the U.S. Navy, said his work for Human Rights First includes amicus briefs and briefings for candidates for public office, including during the 2008 presidential election, on issues such as treatment of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He said the Houston office is an “exciting thing” for South Texas students, who will have the opportunity to volunteer at the clinic, and the community. Rizzo said Human Rights First initially will hire one attorney and one paralegal for the Houston office, but she hopes to recruit 10 to 30 firms in Houston to provide lawyers for the pro bono asylum work. Rizzo said that last fall she visited about 15 firms in Houston to recruit volunteer lawyers, and Human Rights First has already trained 78 attorneys at three firms in Houston. Those attorneys work at Vinson & Elkins, Latham & Watkins and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which provide volunteer lawyers for other Human Rights First offices. “One of the great things about Houston is our large firm network extends to Texas,” Rizzo said. Human Rights First selected Houston for its new office primarily because of three factors: a large immigrant center with a “huge gap in representation,” the availability of lawyers and the overall sustainability of the office, Rizzo said. The organization, which has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., noted in a press release that it helps more than 700 refugees a year and receives about $30 million in donated legal services annually. Funding for the Houston office comes from a grant from The JPB Foundation and The Moriah Fund, Rizzo said.

#TBT: Same-sex marriage

In 2003, Texas Lawyer published two articles from contributors who said same-sex marriage wouldn’t happen in the state “any time soon.” While Texas isn’t close to issuing same-sex marriage licenses, a Feb. 26 ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that enjoins Texas from enforcing a state ban on same-sex marriages might lead to a resolution of the issue—either way—sooner rather than later. “Massachusetts’ highest court ruled on Nov. 18 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, but gay marriages in that state are unlikely to lead to gay marriages in Texas any time soon,” wrote Dallas lawyer Kevin McHargue in the opinion section of Texas Lawyer’s Nov. 24, 2003, issue. Likewise, Houston-area lawyer Robert Painter echoed that sentiment a week later in the Dec. 1, 2003, issue: “Although some states are tinkering with the definition of marriage, the conservative political climate in Texas and its Defense of Marriage Act make it likely that the traditional meaning of marriage will not change here any time soon.” Granted, McHargue and Painter more likely were referring to a legislative redefinition than a judicial one. Nonetheless, did this change happen sooner than anyone anticipated? If so, does 10 years qualify as “soon”? Certainly not in the realm of, say, technology, but in law, maybe—especially when changing law literally is an act of Congress (or, maybe in this case, a judicial ruling). To help decide the matter, here are 10 pop culture things that have happened in the last 10 years to serve as a yardstick. 1. Christian Bale debuted as Batman in “Batman Begins.” 2. Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction at Super Bowl XXXVIII. 3. iTunes became the most popular way to legally download music from the Internet. 4. Jonah Hill was still chubby in “Superbad.” 5. Facebook was founded in 2004. 6. Apple introduced the iPhone. 7. Indiana Jones came out of retirement for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.” 8. The Boston Red Sox won three World Series (while the Texas Rangers made two appearances in the Fall Classic). 9. “Zombieland” taught us how to love and survive a zombie apocalypse. 10. Twitter was founded in 2006.