News Release ~ 02/23/2010

 Sen. Rodney Ellis to Be Honored

By National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Washington, DC (February 23, 2010) – Sen. Rodney Ellis (Houston) will be honored with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ prestigious Champion of Justice Legislative Award, the association’s national office announced today. The award will be presented to Sen. Ellis in Austin, TX, at the Texas Indigent Defense Summit at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Champion of Justice Awards are bestowed upon those individuals who -- through legislative, journalistic or humanitarian pursuits -- have staunchly preserved or defended the constitutional rights of American citizens and have endeavored to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime. Sen. Ellis is being recognized for two decades of tireless work to improve the criminal justice system and provide adequate legal representation to poor persons charged with crimes in Texas state courts.

The day-long summit will gather over 200 attorneys and state and national policy experts to discuss the progress and challenges Texas faces in adhering to the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel. Sen. Ellis organized the daylong conference with support and participation from NACDL, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Constitution Project. A two-day national indigent defense summit was held last week in Washington, DC.

Sen. Ellis is the author of the Texas Fair Defense Act, which requires that appointment of counsel be made promptly, from a list of qualified attorneys, not just “warm bodies.” Alternatively, the Fair Defense Act also allows a county or groups of counties to create a public defender office if they so choose. If a county does not choose a plan on its own, the default attorney selection method (a “rotation system”) comes into play – to avoid the charges made in the past of favoritism by judges in some courts, the judge must appoint an attorney from among the first five names appearing on a rotating public appointment list of attorneys qualified for the level of offense charged. The law adopted statewide attorney qualification standards for handling death penalty cases, including minimum capital trial experience requirements.

The Fair Defense Act clarifies and strengthens attorneys’ ability to obtain reimbursement for reasonable and necessary expenses for investigation and experts. It also established a statewide agency, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, to develop further minimum quality standards for indigent defense across the state, assist and monitor counties in meeting the law’s objectives, bring accountability to indigent defense practices in Texas, and administer state grants to counties.

Rodney Ellis was elected to the Texas Senate in 1990. During his tenure, Senator Ellis has earned praise as a leader on economic development, education, civil rights, responsible environmental policy, tax cuts for the middle class, criminal justice, and workforce development issues.

Before his election to the Texas Senate, Senator Ellis served three terms as a member of the Houston City Council and as chief of staff to the late U.S. Congressman Mickey Leland. He holds a bachelor''s degree from Texas Southern University, a master''s degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law. Ellis also studied at Xavier University of New Orleans and the London School of Economics.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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