Pro Bono Spotlight – Judge Lela Lawrence Mays
She “just did it!”
Judge Lela Lawrence Mays, 283rd District Court in Dallas, is an innovator on many fronts. One innovation includes establishing the Successful Treatment of Addiction through Collaboration ("S.T.A.C.”) court to assist probationers in transitioning back into their communities without the use of drugs and alcohol.
Judge Mays discovered that many probationers lack a driver's license or State ID due to their inability to pay fines, costs, and fees on outstanding traffic or other fine-only offenses. Restoring their ID and credentials is a crucial component in the success of the S.T.A.C. program. With them, participants can obtain or maintain employment, pursue educational opportunities, or provide day-to-day necessities for themselves and their families.
So Judge Mays began recruiting pro bono attorneys from her church to handle driver's license restoration cases for S.T.A.C. participants. She partnered with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and its pro bono partner in Dallas, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, to set up legal clinics at her church. Judge Mays attends the clinics and continues to recruit new pro bono lawyers to assist S.T.A.C. court probationers and other low-income persons in the County. The pro bono attorneys have handled dozens of cases that result in the participants restoring their driver's licenses or state IDs. In 2020, the State Bar of Texas honored Judge Mays with the Merrill Hartman Pro Bono Judge award for her work with this project.
Recruiting pro bono attorneys is a challenge for all legal aid and bar association programs. Judge Mays, however, "just did it." As one lawyer put it, "She will use every reasonable means to help people put their lives back on track." Judge Lela Lawrence Mays is an exemplary role model for judges and lawyers in promoting and delivering pro bono service.