Equal Opportunity Policy

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Equal Opportunity Statement

The purpose of the TEXAS RIOGRANDE LEGAL AID, INC. (TRLA) Equal Opportunity Policy is to assure the right of all persons to work in, participate in, and receive the assistance provided by TRLA without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or AIDS-related illness. The policy protects (1) any person being served by or seeking the assistance of the program, (2) any person employed by, or seeking employment by, the program, and (3) any person participating on a program Board, advisory or planning committee.

Equal Opportunity Policy

IT IS A POLICY OF TRLA TO RECRUIT, HIRE, TRAIN, AND PROMOTE PERSONS IN ALL JOB CLASSIFICATIONS, WITHOUT REGARD TO RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE, DISABILITY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY OR EXPRESSION, OR AIDS-RELATED ILLNESS. IT IS ALSO THE POLICY OF THIS ORGANIZATION TO ADMINISTER ALL ITS SERVICES TO ITS ELIGIBLE CLIENTS WITHOUT REGARD TO THE PREVIOUSLY STATED CRITERIA.

Affirmative Action Program Policy

TRLA WILL ADMINISTER ALL PERSONNEL MATTERS WITHOUT REGARD TO RACE, SEX, RELIGION, COLOR, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE, DISABILITY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY OR EXPRESSION OR AIDS-RELATED ILLNESS. It is the purpose of TRLA to abide by its affirmative action plan in that all employment related decisions will be designed to further the principles of equal opportunity. These matters include compensation, transfers, layoffs, recall from layoffs, TRLA sponsored trainings, TRLA sponsored education, and all other related employment benefits.

When any position for employment is available, TRLA will seek qualified applicants without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or AIDS-related illness. In addition to following the guidelines of Sections 1006(b)(6) and 1007(a)(8) of the Legal Services Corporation Act, and Part 1616 of the Corporation Regulations, TRLA will abide by the following guidelines in recruitment:

1. Advertisements will be placed in media chosen to reach qualified persons, including minorities and women. All employment advertisements will contain the phrase “Equal Opportunity Employer”.

2. All recruitment materials distributed by TRLA shall include the following statement: “TEXAS RIOGRANDE LEGAL AID IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY/AFFIRMATIVE ACTION EMPLOYER AND DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE, DISABILITY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY OR EXPRESSION, OR AIDS-RELATED ILLNESS.”

3. TRLA employment applications will notify applicants that discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or AIDS-related illness is prohibited by this agency.

In hiring, placement, and promotion of applicants and employees, TRLA will make decisions on the basis of individual ability and performance, and the staffing needs of TRLA consistent with the commitment to equal opportunity that is set forth in this statement of equal opportunity policies. All hiring, placement, and promotional activities will be periodically reviewed by TRLA to assure that full consideration, as required by program policy, has been given to all qualified minority and women applicants and employees.

All compensation and fringe benefits, including access to training and educational programs for employees of TRLA, will be determined without regard to race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, or AIDS-related illness.

TRLA will not tolerate harassment against any individual, whether employee or client, based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or AIDS-related illness.

This agency has assigned the overall responsibility for equal opportunity implementation to the Director of Administration. This person will provide assurances as may be requested to confirm that such a plan is being implemented. The Director of Administration will consult periodically with a designated staff person from the Texas Legal Services Union, Local No. 2, UAW/65 to assist in reviewing the Affirmative Action Program.

TRLA will adopt the applicable parts of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between TRLA and TLSU in addressing discrimination-related grievances of staff. Eligible TRLA clients will be afforded the client complaint procedure for pursuing complaints based on a violation of this statement. Other complaints will be afforded the TRLA non-client (non-employee) complaint procedure as is described in the TRLA Personnel Policy Manual.

It is the policy of TRLA to make available information concerning TRLA’s participation in the Affirmative Action Program to all employees, applicants for employment, and the general public through such means as:

(a) posting the equal opportunity policy statement and federal equal employment opportunity posters in employee lounges and/or bulletin boards, etc;

(b) inclusion of information on equal opportunity and Affirmative Action in new employee orientation materials;

(c) training employees on these policies, including how respond to harassment and bullying in all forms;

(d) noting that TRLA is an “Equal Opportunity Employer” in job descriptions, advertisements and recruiting materials, and;

(e) establishing a practice, when possible, of contracting with equal opportunity employers.

Service Area

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TRLA’s service area includes the 68 counties listed below. Statewide teams include its Foster Youth Justice Project and Texas C-BAR, or Community Building with Attorney Resources. In addition, TRLA serves migrant and other farm workers throughout the state of Texas, as well as in the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Aransas
Atascosa
Bandera
Bastrop
Bee
Bexar
Blanco
Brewster
Brooks
Burnet
Caldwell
Calhoun
Cameron
Comal
Crockett
Culberson
DeWitt
Dimmit
Duval
Edwards
El Paso
Frio
Gillespie
Goliad
Gonzales
Guadalupe
Hays
Hidalgo
Hudspeth
Jackson
Jeff Davis
Jim Hogg
Jim Wells
Karnes
Kendall
Kenedy
Kerr
Kimble
Kinney
Kleberg
La Salle
Lavaca
Live Oak
Llano
Mason
Maverick
McMullen
Medina
Nueces
Pecos
Presidio
Real
Reeves
Refugio
San Patricio
Starr
Sutton
Terrell
Travis
Uvalde
Val Verde
Victoria
Webb
Willacy
Williamson
Wilson
Zapata
Zavala

Our History

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The original TRLA program – known as Texas Rural Legal Aid – was created in 1970 by the Texas Trial Lawyers Association with federal funding for nine deep South Texas counties. The “founding father” was James DeAnda of Corpus Christi, who later became the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Texas Rural Legal Aid joined several programs previously established in mostly urban areas, such as Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Laredo and El Paso. All of these programs were subsequently funded through a new federal agency, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), when it was established in 1974. Over the next few years, groups such as Texas Rural Legal Aid, Coastal Bend Legal Services, and Legal Aid of Central Texas expanded into adjoining rural counties. During that time Bexar County Legal Aid, the El Paso Legal Aid Society, and the Laredo Legal Aid Society remained as single-county urban legal services programs. By 1980, every county in Texas had some level of “access” to civil legal services. At the time federal funding almost reached an early goal established by LSC – to have sufficient funding to provide one lawyer for every 5,000 eligible clients in the country.

With the advent of the Reagan administration in 1980 came a period of uncertainty. The administration first attempted to eliminate federal funding for legal aid services altogether, but Congress insisted that the program be continued. The administration next tried to destroy the program from within by appointing a board and hiring staff that were hostile to the purposes for which the program was created. Federal funding was cut by one-third during this period and programs were subjected to intense scrutiny.

Some modest increases in funding occurred during the Clinton administration, but LSC never recovered to the levels of funding that existed in 1980. There was another effort to eliminate the program by the Congress, resulting in new restrictions on LSC grantees (on attorneys fees, class actions, representation of prisoners, lobbying, redistricting, etc.) and reduced funding in 1996.

However, state funding in Texas began to come on line, the first being monies from Interest-On-Lawyers-Trust-Accounts (aka “IOLTA”), a program implemented by the Texas Supreme Court in 1984. The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation was established to administer the IOLTA funds and later became the funding conduit for all state funding.

In 2002, at the direction of the Legal Services Corporation, four legal aid programs previously serving the Austin area (Legal Aid of Central Texas), San Antonio (Bexar County Legal Aid Society), the Corpus Christi, Laredo, and Victoria areas (Coastal Bend Legal Services) and El Paso (El Paso Legal Aid Society) merged with the original Texas Rural Legal Aid program to create a new agency that doubled the size of its clientele. To reflect the merger, the organization’s name was changed to Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA). In the year of the merger, TRLA provided civil legal services to more than 25,000 low-income clients, with services ranging from brief advice and counseling to extensive litigation in state and federal courts.

Who We Are

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Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) is a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income residents in sixty-eight counties of Southwest Texas, and represents migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout the state of Texas and six southern states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. In addition, TRLA operates public defender programs in several Southwest Texas counties, representing the poor who are accused of felonies, misdemeanors and juvenile crimes.

TRLA is the third largest legal services provider in the nation and the largest in the state of Texas. TRLA serves approximately 25,000 clients each year. However, over 2.6 million residents of Southwest Texas are considered eligible for TRLA services, a ratio of almost 21,000 potential clients per lawyer.

There are more than three dozen practice areas in which TRLA attorneys specialize including colonias and real estate, civil rights, environmental justice, labor and employment, public benefits, disaster assistance, federally subsidized housing, foreclosure, bankruptcy, wills and estates, border issues, human trafficking, international child abduction.

Program headquarters are in Mercedes, Texas with branch offices located throughout the state. TRLA also serves migrant and seasonal farmworkers in six southern states with its Southern Migrant Legal Services office in Nashville, Tennessee.

TRLA is funded in principal part by the Legal Services Corporation and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. TRLA also receives smaller grants from a variety of federal, state and local agencies, foundations, and corporations. In addition, TRLA receives funding from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense to provide public defender services in criminal cases.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is recognized by the US Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt organization and contributions are tax deductible to the donor. For more information on how you can support TRLA click here.

Applicants for service and those wishing to refer clients to TRLA should call our toll-free hotline at 1-888-988-9996,

Image © Alan Pogue

Board of Directors

Ronald B. Walker (President) State Bar of Texas
Selena Solis (Vice-President) El Paso Bar Association
Lisa Taylor (Treasurer) Cameron County Bar Association
Carlos Blanco Laredo Clients’ Council Webb County
Diana Abrego Del Rio/Eagle Pass Clients’ Council
Ofelia Zapata Austin Interfaith
Ramona Casas Edinburg Clients Council Hidalgo County
Jeanne Chastain Corpus Christi Bar Association
Joseph Connors, III Mexican-American Legal Defense & Edu. Fund
Marta Pelaez Family Violence Prevention Services, Inc.
Rafael Carrasco, Jr. Project BRAVO, Inc, El Paso County
Emma Alaniz La Union del Pueblo Entero
David W. Hilgers Travis County Bar Association
Victoria Guerra Hidalgo County Bar Association
Lisa Barkley San Antonio Bar Association
Gloria M. Rincones Cameron County Bar Association
Ricardo Lara El Paso Bar Association
Frances Medrano Mercedes Clients Council Hidalgo County
Christina Perez Laredo/Webb County Bar Association
Leonor Cortez Robstown Clients’ Council Nueces County
Cindy Polinard State Bar of Texas
Judge Lisa Jarrett San Antonio Bar Association
Roger Reed Hidalgo County Bar Association
Diana Torres El Centro Del Barrio
Michael Wyatt El Paso Bar Association

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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What is Texas RioGrande Legal Aid?

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation that provides free civil legal assistance to low-income Texans in South, Central and West Texas. In addition, TRLA provides services to migrant farm workers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana on cases that involve issues relating to their status as migrants. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income clients by providing high quality civil legal assistance and related educational services. TRLA also operates public defender programs in eight Southwest Texas counties, providing representation to persons accused of crimes. Services generally include representation in felonies, misdemeanors and juvenile cases. The public defender programs are jointly funded by the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense and the participating counties. TRLA is the only non-profit corporation providing trial-level criminal defense services in Texas.

What are the TRLA eligibility standards?

To qualify for free legal services from TRLA, an applicant must meet the income, asset and immigration requirements established by the United States Congress, the Texas Legislature, and by various funding sources. Generally, each funding source has its own requirements that TRLA staff must apply to determine whether an applicant is eligible under a particular grant. With over 50 different funding sources, those requirements are obviously complicated, but TRLA will always attempt to find a funding source that will permit representation for persons who are unable to afford the services of a private attorney, if possible.

The guidelines are complicated, but trained intake workers will be the first step of the process.  Applicants will be asked various questions regarding income, assets and citizenship or immigration status in order to see whether they are eligible. To start the application process, call 1-888-988-9996.

What cities and counties does your service area include?

TRLA is the largest legal aid provider in the state and the third largest in the United States. It provides services to eligible residents of a 68-county region of Southwest Texas, from the Mexican border on the Rio Grande to Central Texas. TRLA’s main office is located in Mercedes in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and branch offices are located in Austin, San Antonio, Victoria, Beeville, Sinton, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Harlingen, Edinburg, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Alpine, and El Paso. TRLA also serves migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout Texas, and, in addition, has an office in Nashville, Tennessee that serves farm workers in six southern states (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) through its Southern Migrant Legal Services project. Representation in criminal cases is provided in 8 counties: Bee, Live Oak, and McMullen from an office in Beeville; Willacy County from the Harlingen office; and Val Verde, Kinney, Edwards and Terrell counties from the Del Rio office.

Who are the clients that TRLA serves?

TRLA employs over 135 attorneys and 65 paralegals who work to provide the basic human needs of our clients. The majority of TRLA clients are low-income women and children who are victims of domestic violence and who need assistance in escaping violence and remaining violence-free. Other types of clients include migrant and seasonal farm workers, disabled residents, victims of elder abuse, the homeless, and displaced workers to name a few. Our screening process is designed to prioritize clients whose problems are life-altering or threatening. TRLA clients share two very important characteristics: they are overwhelmingly Latino, and they are oppressively poor. Over 90% of TRLA’s clients are of Mexican descent. Upwards of one-half of the clients speak Spanish as their primary language.

Does TRLA represent people who have been charged with crimes?

Most of TRLA’s grants are restricted to providing services in civil cases, rather than representing persons who are accused of crimes. There are some exceptions to those rules, such as when the criminal charge arises out of a case where TRLA is representing the person in a civil matter. In counties where TRLA does not have a public defender program, we can still provide legal advice and counsel on such matters as how to obtain a court-appointed lawyer, or what options are available for getting released from jail before trial, such as no-fee personal recognizance bonds.

As of 2010, TRLA represents criminal defendants through its public defender programs in Bee, Live Oak, McMullen, Willacy, Val Verde, Edwards, Kinney and Terrell counties. If you have been charged with a felony, misdemeanor or juvenile offense in one of those counties, or believe that you might be, you may consult with a TRLA criminal defense lawyer in the Beeville, Harlingen or Del Rio offices.

How do eligible clients get help?

Clients can access TRLA’s services by calling our toll-free number at 1-888-988-9996 or by coming into any one of the offices listed above.

Privacy Policy

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The Board of Directors recognizes that clients and those persons who apply for legal services from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. have the right to discuss their legal problems in an atmosphere that protects the confidentiality of all communications and that preserves the attorney-client privilege from inadvertent or unintended breaches. To preserve those privileges and to protect confidential communications, the Board hereby declares as a matter of program policy that:

  1. Only TRLA employees may request or solicit information from clients or applicants for legal services that may pertain to their legal problems, eligibility, or any identifying information, including names, addresses, or social security numbers. Exceptions to this policy may be made for an attorney in private practice who is providing legal services under a Private Attorney Involvement arrangement with TRLA, a consultant working under contract with TRLA or under the supervision of TRLA staff, or authorized volunteers engaged in the delivery of legal services under the supervision of a TRLA employee.
  2. No member of the public or of the TRLA Board of Directors nor any member of a Board committee, an advisory committee, or similar body shall have access to confidential or privileged communications between TRLA employees and clients or applicants for legal services, including identity information, nor may a Board or committee member solicit information regarding a clients case from a client or applicant, unless such client or applicant voluntarily consents to provide confidential or privileged information after a TRLA attorney has fully explained the rights that might be waived or jeopardized by providing confidential or privileged information to any person or entity not subject to the attorney-client relationship.
  3. A member of the Board of Directors who seeks to obtain information or documents regarding program operations beyond that information provided generally to all members in their official governing capacities shall first submit such requests to the President of the Corporation. The President shall determine whether such request is appropriate, including the time and expense to program staff in responding to the requests, and if deemed appropriate, he or she may direct management to produce all or part of the requested information or documents, provided that no documents or information that is subject to the attorney-client privilege or that would tend to reveal the secrets or confidences of clients or applicants for legal services shall be released. The determination of the President may be appealed to the Executive Committee by program management or the requesting Board member.
  4. TRLA requests social security numbers of applicants for legal services in order to better identify those applicants and to assist in complying with funding regulations. In certain instances the social security number is needed in order to resolve the clients case. Such information is collected at time of intake, and entered into the client database. Access to the personal information is limited to those persons referenced in number 1 above.
  5. Client files may be destroyed after having been closed for at least five years. This applies to all files, regardless of the type of service provided. However, if the documents have been scanned into the client record on the CTS, the originals can be destroyed upon file closing. Any documents being destroyed which include a clients or an applicants identifying information must be shredded.
  6. This policy shall be made available to TRLA applicants and clients.