Houston lawyers step up to help families separated at the border

As the Trump administration continues to miss court-ordered deadlines to reunite families separated at the border, many in the Texas legal community are stepping up to help.

Prominent Houston attorneys are working with pro bono groups in Houston, including Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the ABA’s Immigrant Child Advocacy Network, to make sure these families have the legal support they need during this process.

Critics have long highlighted the unfair nature of the nation’s immigration court system that requires children — some still in diapers — to have appearances before judges and go through deportation proceedings while separated from their parents. Such children don’t have a right to a court-appointed attorney, and 90 percent of kids without a lawyer are returned to their home countries regardless of what the conditions there are, according to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a group that provides legal representation.

Pro bono groups, like KIND, help provide volunteer lawyers to help solve this problem.  It is well established that children fare better in immigration proceedings when they are represented by counsel.  KIND serves as the leading organization for the protection of unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system alone and strives to ensure that no such child appears in immigration court without representation. We achieve fundamental fairness through high-quality legal representation and by advancing the child’s best interests, safety, and well-being.

KIND has offices in eight cities in the United States – Baltimore, Boston, Houston, Newark, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Seattle.  KIND finds pro bono attorneys in highly regarded law firms and corporations who agree to represent KIND’s child clients in their immigration proceedings. The ABA’s Immigrant Child Advocacy Network also provides attorneys with opportunities to donate time and resources to the effort to reunify families properly at our border.

Local Houston attorneys are stepping up to volunteer their time and resources to help these pro bono groups in the aim to give these separated children the proper legal representation in immigration court.  Family law attorney Bobby Newman is no stranger to fighting to reunify families. He, and his team, have long fought to protect parents’ and children’s rights to be together.  In his recent representation of a local father whose son is the victim of an international abduction, Bobby Newman who has a young son himself, found himself wanting to find a way to do more.  A member of Bobby Newman’s team already volunteers for KIND and has successfully handled asylum proceedings.  Bobby Newman reached out and offered his team’s experience to help KIND with their efforts to make sure that children do not appear without counsel, and all of the things that they need, in immigration court.

Get involved

If you want to volunteer to help these children, please visit the links below.




Jurors fail to reach Thompson verdict after 29 hours of deliberations

Last week in Harris County, Terry Thompson was tried for the highly publicized death of John Hernandez.  After more than 29 hours of deliberations, jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

Mr. Hernandez died after being beaten and restrained in June 2017 outside a Denny’s in Harris County. Mr. Thompson, the husband of a member of local law enforcement, confronted Mr. Hernandez after seeing him urinating outside the restaurant.

Witnesses say Hernandez was quickly overpowered by Thompson, who continued to beat him and then put him in a chokehold for 10 to 15 minutes. They said Hernandez was too drunk to defend himself. There is a video of the incident.

Mr. Thompson always maintained that he was acting in self-defense on the night that Mr. Hernandez died.

Mr. Hernandez’ civil lawyer disagreed.  “It’s a very sad video because you’re watching a man basically being killed,” Hernandez’ civil lawyer said. “He was kicking his legs in a helpless fashion, and you can hear him gargling or gurling, ‘Stop, stop.’” Mr. Hernandez’ wife and young child were also present.

The District Attorney’s Office agreed that Mr. Thompson should be charged and tried for Murder in this case.

But on Saturday evening, state District Judge Kelli Johnson was forced to declare a mistrial less than an hour after reading jurors an Allen charge before they returned to the jury room. Judges sometimes use Allen charges to try to push a deadlocked jury to make a final effort to reach a verdict before declaring a mistrial.

The mistrial provoked a lot of emotions from the family of John Hernandez. They were noticeably upset as they left the courthouse.

Terry Thompson left the courthouse as a free man — for now. He had nothing to say to reporters as he exited.

Local legal experts were not surprised by the deadlock due to the complicated issues that self-defense can present a jury.  Defense counsel for Mr. Thompson told the press that the jury was hung 11-1 in favor of a not guilty verdict for his client. It is unknown as this time if the DA’s Office will try Mr. Thompson again.

Houston legal community should support keeping families together

No matter what our differences as members of opposing sides of the legal community may be, we can all agree that families belong together. Just as children were separated from their parents and there is an ongoing struggle to reunify them at the border now, the family and criminal law community has long dealt with families being separated by parental abduction across international borders. This blog asks members of the Houston legal community who deal with incidents of child separation by parental abduction to help support efforts to reunite children separated from their parents at the border with their parents NOW.

Respected Houston attorney Bobby Newman has recently pledged contributions to a fund to help reunite families separated at the border, and this blog calls on other Houston attorneys to follow his lead.

One such case, handled by Newman, recently made the news when Dr. Chris Brann’s in-laws were convicted of being a part of his young son’s abduction to Brazil.  Dr. Brann’s son Nico was born in September of 2009. Dr. Brann loves him with his whole heart. He loved playing with him, and teaching him. He was a hands on dad who never liked to be away from his boy. Nico was born in Houston, is a Texan, is a United States citizen.

Dr. Brann and his wife, Nico’s mom, separated in 2012. Nico’s mom is originally from Brazil. Dr. Brann was eventually represented by Houston family lawyer Bobby Newman and his ex-wife was represented by Rick Ramos. Both Bobby Newman and Rick Ramos were called as witnesses at the eventual criminal trial of his ex-wife’s parents. But at first everyone seemed to be in agreement that Dr. Brann and his ex-wife would share custody and help maintain normalcy in Nico’s life.

Dr. Brann trusted his ex-wife when she asked if she could travel with Nico to Brazil to see her family. He was familiar with horror stories like Sean Goldman’s case but believed that she would abide by court ordered agreements. Bobby Newman and Rick Ramos crafted a Travel Agreement and the court put it in place making clear that she would bring Nico back home to Houston. The court orders made clear that Nico’s permanent domicile was in Texas.

Dr. Brann learned later that it was all a ploy by his ex-wife to trick him and the Court.  Upon arriving in Brazil, she immediately filed for sole custody of Nico. In doing so, she hid from the court the joint custody agreement that Newman and Ramos had helped them enter in Texas. She had premeditated Nico’s abduction: enrolled Nico in a Brazilian school three months earlier and she had accepted a job offer there.

The Brazilian court did not help Dr. Brann and has never forced Nico’s return.  Even after recent conviction of her parents in federal criminal court for participating in his abduction, Nico’s mother refuses to bring Nico home to the United States.  Dr. Brann sees Nico less than one percent of the time, and only in the presence of armed guards. Nico doesn’t speak English to anyone and won’t discuss anything about his life, only replying: “Mommy doesn’t want me to talk about that.”

Families belong together. The criminal law bar and the family law bar in Houston supports reuniting parents with children who rightfully belong in their custody.

6-13-18 News Roundup

Texas Lawyer: “White & Case, which is building up its Houston office with lateral hires from several prominent firms in Texas, raided King & Spalding for its latest conquest—partner David Strickland.” Read More

Houston Public Media: “The trial of Terry Thompson for the murder of John Hernandez in May 2017 started Wednesday and Thompson’s defense attorney said during the opening arguments his client didn’t intend to kill the 24 year-old man.” Read More

Law.com: Partners at local firms complain that it is increasingly difficult to win client work. “Part of the difficulty”, a partner at a leading Houston based law firm told ALM Intelligence, “is that clients have gotten more sophisticated over the past couple years, but the other part of the problem is that there are just so many more firms to compete with these days.” This partner’s comments are understandable – Houston has seen 46 NLJ 250 market entries since 2001. Read More

Houston Chronicle: Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, in what may be the first case of its kind across the country, has filed a civil lawsuit to shut down a Houston bar she called a “crime factory” because of repeated criminal behavior linked to over serving alcohol to customers. Read More