Habern’s law firm honored for civil rights work

Bill Habern’s law firm, Habern, O’Neil and Pawgan L.L.P. of Huntsville, was recently honored by the The Houston Lawyers Association and the Houston Lawyers Foundation. The award was the Matthew W. Plummer Sr. Justice Award, named for a former Tuskegee airman who was an investigator for the Harris County district attorney’s office when he challenged the segregation of the courthouse cafeteria. Here’s an excerpt from the coverage in the Huntsville Item.

Bill Habern, one of the firm’s founding partners, served as one of the attorneys who successfully defended Texas prison inmate Eroy Brown — recently granted parole — accused of capital murder in the 1981 of slayings of a prison warden and farm manager at the Ellis Unit near Riverside. He also litigated a case known nationally as the “Ultimate Hunt” in which two prison inmates were injured when forced to serve as “dog bait” for Texas prison system chase dogs. That case netted $14,000 in damages to the two inmates.

Habern’s work with the prison and parole system also has been honored by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, which last year gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
“If 40 years ago when I got my law license, someone had told me that I’d spend my career representing prison inmates and their families for a living, I’d have told them they were crazy,” Habern told the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. “What our law firm does is a very important area of law that is rapidly expanding while at the same time getting more and more complicated. Despite that expansion, Texas is without a meaningful, full-time organization that is active in its pursuit of prisoner’s civil rights. This is not the case in many other states.”
Habern said he is also concerned that there are no — if any —  law schools in Texas that offer a course work directed at representing clients facing the consequences of a felony conviction.
“This area of law deals with a lot more that just parole or a prisoner’s civil rights. It has to do with a whole new world of issues that must be faced by legislatures, the courts, the family, and the offender,” he said. “Law schools today seldom prepare young lawyers to deal with the collateral circumstances of a felony conviction. It is mostly lessons of law that are learned on the job and in the streets.”

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