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January 29, 2020

Legal deserts, bail reform and voting rights among criminal justice highlights at American Bar Association meeting Feb. 13-17 in Austin, Texas

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2020 — Access to justice in U.S. legal deserts, bail reform and ensuring the voting rights of those with criminal convictions are chief among criminal justice issues that will be explored at the 2020 American Bar Association Midyear Meeting Feb. 13-17 in Austin, Texas.

With several hundred top-quality legal programs and events, and presentations by America’s foremost law experts and speakers, the ABA Midyear Meeting is the nation’s premier gathering of legal professionals.

The 596-member ABA House of Delegates—the association’s policy-making body—will meet at 9 a.m. on Feb. 17 in the Grand Ballroom (Level 4) of the JW Marriott Hotel. For details on the proposals for debate and vote during the one-day session, click here.   

Online registration is available for news reporters. Credential guidelines are here

Criminal justice programs include:

Thursday, Feb. 13

“Deepfakes, Democracy and the Courts” – The past 18 months have provided stunning evidence of the ability of state actors to undermine the foundations of democracy through the use of deepfake videos. Former Undersecretary Suzanne Spaulding of the Department of Homeland Security will examine the issue and the paths forward, including a new effort by the National Center for State Courts and a handful of bar associations and state supreme courts to develop countermeasures.

10:40-11:40 a.m., Hilton Austin, Sixth Floor, Austin Grand Ballroom Salon J

Friday, Feb. 14

Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice: Homelessness, Gun Violence, Immigration Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, Texas, will highlight the programming on public interest law, focusing on how lawyers can address complex societal issues, such as homelessness, through bipartisan discourse grounded in law and policy advocacy. Also, Judge Ernestine Gray of the New Orleans Parish Juvenile Court will share how advocacy opportunities and ABA involvement have furthered her lifelong commitment to social justice.

9-10:30 a.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 4

“We Don’t Need to Carry the Work Alone: Interdisciplinary Representation” Practitioners – including representatives from Texas Defender Services in Austin, Street Democracy, Disability Rights Texas and the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project – will discuss working models of interdisciplinary legal representation in which non-legal expertise is incorporated into legal teams, frequently utilized to serve clients in immigration, housing, disability, death penalty and other complex cases. Topics will include ethical considerations, strengths, challenges and lessons learned from those in the field.     

10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 1

“Legal Deserts – How do Bars Fill the Gap?”Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court and other legal experts will explore solutions to the problem of access to justice in rural areas, in which technological barriers, outstanding student loans for new lawyers, smaller populations and other circumstances lead to vast areas in many states that have no legal representation.

3-4 p.m., Hilton Austin, Sixth Floor, Austin Grand Ballroom Salon K

“One Person, (N)one Vote” — Representatives from the ACLU, Prison Policy Initiative and Southern Poverty Law Center will examine the residency requirements and moral character tests that continue to bar certain marginalized communities from voting, such as homeless people, students and those with criminal convictions. Panelists will analyze the implications of these policies when it comes to obtaining accurate census counts and redistricting, especially with respect to prison-based gerrymandering and transient populations.

3:15-4:45 p.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 1

“Holistic Representation: Models for Assisting Clients to Address the Root Causes of Justice System Involvement” — Seasoned practitioners will share how working holistically with criminal offenders can best stabilize their lives and reduce recidivism. Such an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach can best address the enumerable civil legal consequences – such as loss of housing, benefit eligibility and professional licenses – that keep too many people locked in the criminal justice system, they say.

3:15-4:45 p.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 3

“To the Border and Back Again” — Frontline immigration lawyers will trace the journey of the asylum seeker, from border travel to the processing of refugee claims, exploring the collateral consequences of both documented and undocumented migrants who face the criminal justice system once in America.  3:30-5 p.m., Omni Austin, Lone Star Room, Ballroom Level

Saturday, Feb. 15

“School to Prison Pipeline: From Report to Action” — Members of the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice will explore its report on the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately draws children of color out of the public schools and into the criminal justice system, focusing on how the legal profession can work on the state and local level to implement the report’s five primary recommendations to dismantle the system.

8-9:30 a.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 1

The Disenfranchised Among Us — Prominent voting rights advocates and electoral system representatives will discuss the barriers that prevent citizens otherwise entitled to vote in U.S. elections and will explore the implications of continuing to employ those restrictions upon the fundamental right to self-determination.

9:45-11:15 a.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 3

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Validity of Risk Assessment Tools in Setting Bail and Drafting Sentences Lawyers, judges and other stakeholders will examine the risk-assessment tools now used as part of new bail reform efforts and the sentencing of criminal defendants across the country, sharing expertise on their scientific validity; their limitations, such as accusations of racial and class bias; error rates; and the needed safeguards to prevent injustice if these tools are manipulated.

2:15-3:45 p.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 3, Lone Star Ballroom Salon F

“Police Civil Rights Litigation: From Ferguson to Dallas – 2020 Vision Today?” — The issues surrounding lawsuits stemming from police-public interaction will be explored by experienced practitioners on both sides of the docket, whether bringing such a case on behalf of a plaintiff against law enforcement or defending the case on behalf of the police and/or governmental entity.

2:30-4 p.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 2

“Implicit Bias: Governmental Complicity” Is government complicit in perpetuating implicit bias? Practitioners, academics and other experts will answer the question through an examination of some long-standing and new governmental policies, laws and regulations and their impact upon communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in housing, transportation, education and the criminal justice system.

4:15-5:45 p.m., JW Marriott Austin, Level 4, JW Grand Ballroom Salon 2

During the Midyear Meeting, accredited journalists should register onsite or pick up their preregistered press credentials at the Fourth Level foyer of the JW Marriott Hotel beginning at 9 a.m. on Feb. 12. A press room for accredited reporters will be provided at Griffin Hall (Level 2) of the JW Marriott starting at 3 p.m. on Feb. 12. The room will be open daily thereafter from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will close one hour after the adjournment of the House of Delegates on Feb. 17. Stay up to date on meeting happenings using our Reporter Resources webpage.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.