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     Bill Habern established the first full time, full service corrections law firm in Texas. The firm specializes in sentencing, prison, parole, and post conviction issues. He became a licensed attorney after graduation from the Texas Tech Law School in 1972. He was among the very first group of lawyers employed as public defenders in a then new public defender program representing indigent inmates at the Texas prison. He remained in that program for approximately two years.

     In 1975 Habern opened his own law office in Huntsville, Texas where he had a general law practice with emphasis on prison and criminal law. He continued to practice in Huntsville until 1979 when he was appointed executive director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Project, which is the continuing educational arm of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TC.D.L.A.). He continued in that position until 1981. Thereafter he continued to serve T.C.D.L.A. for the next ten years as a member of that organizations Board of Directors.

     Habern also served as co-chairman of the sentencing and post conviction committees of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for the 1989-1990 terms. In 1982 Habern was appointed to serve as the initial chairman of the TCDLA corrections committee. He held this position for over twenty years until 2004 when he asked to be relieved of that position in order to form the law firm of Habern, O’Neil, and Buckley, LLP. Habern was the managing partner in that firm for many years, and then became “of counsel” to that firm. He then continued to represent clients in matters of a post conviction nature. During this time Habern was appointed liaison to the TCDLA’s legislative committee on issues related to prison, parole and sentencing issues. In this position he regularly appeared before various criminal justice committees at the Texas Legislature.

     His testimony in 1992 before the legislature resulted in a number of changes to the Texas Parole Statute.

     In 1980 Habern was court appointed to represent Eroy Brown, an inmate accused of killing a Texas prison warden and a farm major at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Realizing this assignment would require a team approach, Habern put together an outstanding defense team including himself, Craig Washington, Tim Sloan, and Kent Schaffer. That team successfully defended Mr. Brown who was found not guilty of both allegations. (This story is well told in the publication of The Trials of Eroy Brown, by Michael Berryhill, Ph.D. 2011 ed. Published by the University of Texas Press).

     After the trials of Eroy Brown, Habern and certain members of the defense team continued to represent Brown and other inmates who testified for Brown during the criminal trials in the pursuit of a successful federal civil rights case against the Texas Prison over constitutional violations and abuses the prison had imposed on Mr. Brown and his witnesses during the murder trials. The lawyers won the removal of most of the abused inmate witnesses and Mr. Brown from State of Texas confinement in TDCJ to serve their sentences in federal custody. The lead counsel in this case was David Vanderhoof, who had lead the group of specially appointed lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, appointed by Judge William Wayne Justice in the famous Ruiz v. Estelle Prison civil rights case. That case resulted in the Texas Prison being declared as operating unconstitutionally, and the system was placed under federal court supervision. As an expert witness in the Ruiz case Habern testified on the issue of an incarcerated inmate’s right to access to courts and counsel. His testimony was adopted into the final court ordered opinion on that topic.

     In 1986 Habern was a member of the defense team that won a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Ray v U.S., 481 U.S. 704 (1987).

     That case changed the way federal concurrent sentences were reviewed on appeal in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

     Habern has published over twenty articles and seminar papers involving topics of parole, prison, and sentencing. He has been a regular lecturer at over a hundred seminars, and has served as an expert witness in both state and federal issues dealing with prison civil rights, parole issues, and attorney ethics matters. Cases include expert testimony on behalf of inmates in Johnson v Rodriquez, 110 F.3d 299 (5th Cir. 1997). This challenged the rights of inmates to have access to private information in their parole files. The inmates won during at the trial stage of the case, but the trial court was reversed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

     In his earlier years Habern served as lead counsel in civil rights actions against the Texas prison, the Texas Parole Board, and against educational institutions. Some cases include the nationally publicized “Ultimate Hunt” case which resulted in a damage award for two prison inmates who were seriously injured when forced to act as “dog bait” for the training of Texas prison chase hounds used to track inmates that escape. Habern also filed a civil rights action against the Texas Parole institutions for returning a certain class of parolees back to prison without giving them a due process hearing as required by the constitution. The filing of this civil rights action caused the parole agency to amend its procedure and hearings were re-instituted. Habern challenged the parole board’s policy of temporarily terminating parental rights of a parolee convicted of a sex offense who was no threat to his own children without first granting them a due process hearing. The parole board settled the case rather than deal with what the court might have ordered, and the client was fully unfettered access to his parental rights.

     In 2006 Habern and partner Sean Buckley were invited to join Dick DeGuerin in representing Robert Durst who was subject to a parole revocation by the Texas Parole Board. Habern and Buckley, at DeGuerin’s request, prepared a civil rights action contesting the basis for the effort to revoke Durst, and appeared in federal court with DeGuerin who successfully persuaded the Judge that Durst’s civil rights had been violated, and the revocation was reversed, and Durst was released from jail.

     Habern and co-counsel Richard Gladden successfully filed several federal civil rights actions against the Texas Parole Board in well publicized cases over the fact the parole board was placing inmates who had never been convicted of a sex offense on sex offender parole conditions without first granting them a due process hearing to allow such offenders to show they had no justified basis to impose such conditions. The results of this litigation were several thousand potential offenders were removed from the list of those who were to be placed on sex offender parole status.

     In 2010 Habern, with the assistance of lawyers Craig Jett of Dallas, and John Bennett of Amarillo, represented a client who was convicted and sent to prison. Once in prison a midlevel appeals court reversed the conviction and the offender was allowed to make an appeal bond while the case remained on appeal. Ultimately the ongoing appeal resulted in the conviction being affirmed. The court then issued a mandate (a final order) which required the arrest of the client. However, the State of Texas waited approximately 20 plus years before arresting him or notifying him during which time he successfully remained on bond. Habern’s litigation resulted in the client winning sufficient time credit while out on bond to be awarded termination of his sentence, and he avoided having to serve the remaining 17 years of his sentence in prison. (See Ex parte Thiles, 333 SW3d. 148 (2011).

     In 2011 Habern was honored by the Harris County Criminal Defense Association of Houston, Texas with its annual lifetime achievement award. The Habern firm was honored by the Houston Lawyers Association with their presentation of the 2012 Matthew Plummer Justice Award for their commitment to equal justice for all people.

     Continuing from 2013 Habern has continually been named as one of the 5% of Texas lawyers identified as a Texas Super lawyer. This list is published annually in the Texas Monthly publication.

     In 2015 the partnership of Habern and O’Neil disbanded, and both lawyers moved to Houston where they now jointly maintain a non-partnership relationship under the name Habern, O’Neil and Associates. The firm is not a partnership, and the two lawyers remain close friends.

     In 2015 Habern successfully obtained the parole of Jon Buice, the last of the defendants remaining in prison as a result of the well publicized “Woodlands Ten” murder case. Jon had at the time served over twenty years arising from a very controversial and much over publicized hate crime allegation. This victory came after years of effort by Habern, Houston Prison Advocate Ray Hill, and others including the substantial support resulting from the release of the award winning documentary film, “The Guy With The Knife” produced by Alison Armstrong.

     Over the years Habern has represented hundreds of inmates and their families in both state and federal prison system issues. In the past he taught at the annual continuing education program conducted by the Texas Parole Board for their administrative hearing officers who conduct parole revocation hearings. Today Habern directs his primary efforts at insuring inmates facing parole issues are well represented. He has appeared on several radio and national T.V. programs, including Oprah Winfrey, Catherine Cryer, 20-20, Good Morning America, and various other radio and T.V. program.


In 2011 Habern was awarded the HCCLA lifetime achievement award.









William Habern has been selected and featured in the Super Lawyers magazine for  recognition by his peers & professional achievements continually since 2013.

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