November 09, 2015
The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) will honor Litigation partner Ralph Miller and associate Nathan White with its 2015 Kristi Couvillon Pro Bono Award at its 25th anniversary Bill of Rights Dinner on November 14. The award is presented to lawyers who have demonstrated a deep commitment to pro bono service.
Mr. Miller and Mr. White are being honored for their work on the appeal of a district court’s ruling against a hearing-impaired South Texas couple, who were attempting to understand and make timely decisions about a hospital’s complex and dangerous treatment for their young daughter’s cancerous brain tumor. At the time that the couple’s daughter was undergoing chemotherapy, the treating hospital repeatedly refused or otherwise failed to provide an American Sign Language interpreter, and even when it did, it sometimes would force the family to wait a full day for the interpreter.
The district court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Texas Human Resources Code did not protect the couple. Stepping into the case, and partnering with TCRP attorneys, Mr. Miller and Mr. White drafted the appellate briefs and argued the appeal in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ultimately reversed the dismissal, finding sufficient evidence of a genuine dispute as to whether the hospital intentionally discriminated against the plaintiffs. The appeals court sent the case back to the district court for trial, which is now scheduled for early next year.
“This is not an isolated case,” said Wayne Krause Yang, Legal Director of TCRP. “At TCRP, we hear from people all over the state about hospitals repeatedly refusing to provide simple accommodations for people with disabilities."
Mr. Miller was also previously honored by the TCRP with the organization’s 2014 Kristi Couvillon Pro Bono Award, along with associate Jason Wright, for their work on another prominent pro bono matter, involving inadequate school funding in impoverished West Texas communities.
Weil is widely considered a leader in pro bono service to the Dallas community, Texas and beyond. In 2005, the Dallas office created the Lend-A-Lawyer program for the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP), and each year since, Weil has sent a third- or fourth-year attorney to perform three months of full-time, pro bono legal service at DVAP’s office.
In addition to being the only law firm in Dallas making the Lend-A-Lawyer program commitment to DVAP each year, the Dallas office is repeatedly a winner of DVAP Gold and Silver Awards recognizing pro bono excellence, and is a proud recipient of the W. Frank Newton Award, the State Bar of Texas’ top law firm pro bono honor. Last year, DVAP also honored Weil with the Lisa Blue & Fred Baron Access to Justice Award for the Firm’s long-standing support of DVAP. Additionally, individual Weil attorneys have several times earned the State Bar’s Frank J. Scurlock Award for Pro Bono Service and DVAP’s Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award, including Dallas associate Natalie Smeltzer, who recently was named 2015 Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year by DVAP.