Photo by: J. Mays NYC
established the first full time, full service corrections law firm (specializing in prison and parole issues as well as general criminal law) in the State of Texas. Habern has practiced in the area of prison and parole law for over thirty years. He maintains an active but limited docket of cases specializing in the area of parole and prison problems. He is “Of Counsel” to the firm. He is a 1969 graduate of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and a 1972 graduate of the Texas Tech School of Law in Lubbock, Texas. In 1973 he became the fifth of the first eleven public defenders employed by the Texas Prison’s Public Defender Service. He remained a public defender for approximately two years.
In 1975 Habern started his own law firm in Huntsville, Texas. He maintained his practice until 1979 when he was appointed executive director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Project, which is the educational arm of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association (T.C.D.L.A.). He continued in this position until 1981. Thereafter he served for ten years as a member of the board of directors of T.C.D.L.A. Habern also served as co-chairman of the sentencing and post committees of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for the 1989-1990 terms. In 1982 Habern was appointed to serve as chairman of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association Corrections Committee (also called the parole committee), he continued to serve that committee as chairman or co-chairman for twenty two years, until 2004, when he asked the President of T.C.D.L.A. to relieve him of the position in order to help organize the current law firm. He also served as liaison for that organization’s legislative committee on matters related to Texas prison and parole issues. During that time he regularly appeared before several Texas Legislative committees in Austin to discuss proposed legislation. His testimony in 1992 resulted in a number of changes in the Texas parole statutes.
In 1980 Habern was court appointed to represent Eroy Brown, an inmate accused of killing a Texas prison warden and a farm major. Habern, realizing these two cases were more than any one lawyer could handle, put together the defense team that successfully defended Mr. Brown. That team included Habern, attorney Tim Sloan, and as lead trial lawyer he solicited then State Senator Craig Washington, Ken Schaffer was chosen to be the lead investigator. After two capital murder trials, Brown was found not guilty. After the Eroy Brown capital murder cases ended Habern continued as a member of the civil law team that prosecuted the civil rights cases that arose from the alleged prison instigated abuse suffered by those inmates who assisted in the defense of Eroy Brown. That team included David Vanderhoof (lead counsel in the Ruiz prison civil rights case) and Pat Wiseman, past legal director for the Texas A.C.L.U. The civil rights litigation succeeded in getting many of those Texas inmates claiming abuse at the hands of T.D.C. transferred to federal custody.
In 1986 Habern was a member of the defense team that won the U.S. Supreme Court case of Ray v. U.S.,481 U.S. 704 (1987). This case changed the way federal concurrent sentences were reviewed on appeal in the 5th Circuit.
Mr. Habern has published over 20 articles dealing with parole, prison and sentencing issues. He has been a guest speaker at several Texas law schools and at approximately 100 legal seminars in Texas and other states speaking on the topics of parole, prison law, and federal sentencing issues. For many years Habern taught annual training sessions for parole revocation hearing officers of the Texas Parole Board.
Habern has been lead counsel in civil rights action against the Texas prison, The Texas Parole Board, and against education institutions. Some of his cases include the nationally publicized “Ultimate Hunt” case which resulted in damage awards of $14,000.00 for two inmates who seriously injured when forced to be “dog bait” for the Texas prison chase dogs. He served on the civil law team in the case arising from the prosecution of Eroy Brown where the prison was accused of harassing and take in unjustified punitive action against inmate who were called to testify on behalf of inmate Brown in that capital murder case. Habern’s law firm filed a civil rights actions against the parole board for sending parolees back to prison without first granting them a revocation hearing, and currently has a federal civil rights case pending for the parole board failing to afford parolees due process before temporarily terminating their parental rights. He has also served as an expert witness or consultant on behalf of inmates in the litigation of several major state and federal cases. Such cases include Ruiz v. Estelle, and Rodriguez v. Johnson. In 2006 Habern was lead counsel in a federal civil rights case which successfully challenged the Parole Board practice of terminating parental child relationships of sex offenders who are shown not to be threats to children. In 2006 Habern assisted Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin in successfully challenging the efforts by the Texas Parole Board to revoke the parole of Robert Durst. Not only did the revocation decision get reversed, but the parole conditions imposed on Mr. Durst were amended to reflect that he had no conviction involving a crime of violence.
Over the years Habern has represented hundreds of inmates in State and Federal parole and prison issues, not only in Texas, but also in seventeen other states. He has appeared on several national T.V. programs including Oprah Winfrey, Catherine Cryer, 20-20, Good Morning America, and on various other radio and T.V. programs. Currently Habern remains actively involved in the law firm serving in an “of counsel” position to the firm.
2011 Habern was awarded the HCCLA lifetime achievement
2013 he was selected and featured in the Super Lawyers
magazine for recognition by his peers & professional