Serving the Austin community since 1975 SAVE AND SUSTAIN BOOK-WOMAN Help save an endangered species: The independent women’s bookstore For details go to www.savebookwoman.com Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson. advising migrant workers about their rights regarding wage issues. She had found her niche. She spoke Spanish and, more importantly, she easily gained workers’ trust by telling them her life story. “For me, the law was more real because I was thinking, ‘How does the law address injustice for me?’ I had experienced it:’ she says. “And when I was talking to our clients, they could relate to me much more closely than the other students!’ After graduating, she took a job with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her second daughter when she took the bar exam in Chicago in a room separate from the men. She says some had complained she might go into labor and distract them. Other female students volunteered to take the test with her. As a young lawyer, she started to make a name for herself nationally for her work on immigration and Fourth Amendment rights, defending workerssome of them U.S. citizensdetained on immigration raids in Midwestern factories. Yariez eventually returned to the Rio Grande Valley with her two young daughters and took over the immigration program with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, where she worked from 1976 to 1981. When the Reagan administration cut legal aid funding, she went into private practice, continuing to take immigration cases and legal-aid work. In 1991, she secured a full-time job as a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School. She still returns to Harvard each January to teach trial advocacy. Her appointment to the Texas Court of Appeals owes itself in part to a trip she took as a young lawyer to speak at Georgetown University. Gilberto Hinojosa, a law student there who had heard about Yariez’s work in Chicago, invited her to speak at an immigration law forum. Hinojosa went on to a career as lawyer, justice on the 13th Court of Appeals, and Cameron County Judge. In 1993, he encouraged Gov. Ann Richards to make history by appointing Yariez to the court. “She was just very sure, very articulate Hinojosa says of her days as a fledgling attorney. “It was the early days of empowerment of the Hispanic community, and she made it clear that she wanted to be part of that future.” In those days, Hispanic women were a small minority in the legal profession. Yariez remembers judges who called her “honey” in court, and clients who questioned her ability to represent them because she didn’t look like other attorneys. “You get so used to it, [so you say], ‘OK, I’ll figure out a way around it:” she says. “I just am not the kind of person to see the wall. I say, ‘How am I going to get through this, around it, on top of it?'” y ariez likes to say the current all-Republican Texas Supreme Court has a “groupthink” problem, that there is no true debate. She says the justices share similar backgrounds, and though she is careful to interpret the law as it is written, she says she knows life experiences can skew a court’s decision. Those experiences too often lead to a pro-defendant bias, court critics say. A number of recent rulings illustrate the critique, but one of the most notorious is a ruling on behalf of homebuilder Bob Perry, whose family has given more than $250,000 to members of the court. A suburban Fort Worth couple sued Perry Homes for refusing to fix a faulty house in 2000. Two courts upheld the couple’s $800,000 award, but on May 2 of this year, the Supreme Court overturned the rulings. The decision attracted widespread media coverage and prompted a public shaming from pro-plaintiff groups. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 27, 2008
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