FEATURED: Prominent media attorney Thomas Williams, who also serves as a member of the Board of Directors, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, will highlight an open government seminar to be held in Edinburg on Monday afternoon, June 13, 2022, reports attorney Omar Ochoa. The event, to take place from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the County Commissioners Court Chambers, Annex III, 100 E. Cano Street, is free and open to the public.
Prominent media attorney Thomas Williams to highlight Open Government seminar in Edinburg on Monday, June 13, 2022, reports attorney Omar Ochoa
Prominent media attorney Thomas Williams, who also serves as a member of the Board of Directors, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, will highlight an open government seminar to be held in Edinburg on Monday afternoon, June 13, 2022, reports attorney Omar Ochoa.
Williams is a partner with Ft. Worth office of Haynes Boone LLP, which is an international corporate law firm with offices in Texas, New York, California, Charlotte, Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Shanghai, London, and Mexico City.
With more than 30 years experience, Williams has handled cases across a spectrum of practice areas, including those involving claims of libel, invasion of privacy and other First Amendment issues, copyright and trademark infringement, professional responsibility and professional liability claims, oil and gas disputes, employment disputes, and a variety of commercial, corporate, and business issues.
Hidalgo County is serving as host for the event at the County Commissioners Court Chambers, Annex III, 100 E. Cano St., in Edinburg.
The seminar – which is free and open to the public – will begin at 1 p.m. with a Texas Open Meetings Act session featuring Williams.
“The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, whose members speak out at the state Capitol on behalf of freedom of information and free speech laws, provide an invaluable resource – at no cost – to Texans from all walks of life to learn more about protecting the people’s right to know what their governments are doing in their name,” said Ochoa. “They do so through their website, and through seminars such as the ones being held in June in Edinburg, and a week earlier in San Antonio.”
The public event in Edinburg – as well as one which took place in San Antonio on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 – are designed to help journalists and others interested in the Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act get a broader understanding of Texas’ two main open government laws.
Open Government seminars address timely topics related to the Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act and include a legislative update on recent changes to the laws. The program is directed toward government employees, attorneys, journalists and anyone wanting to learn more about open government laws.
The seminars are offered in cooperation with the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
This course has been approved as meeting the requirements for open government training for public officials. State Bar of Texas Continuing Legal Education credits are also available.
Following William’s presentation at the half-day seminar in Edinburg, the Texas Attorney General’s Office participation will begin afterward at 2:15 p.m. and will highlight the Texas Public Information Act and its Cost Rules.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office oversees the rules for how much government agencies may charge for records under the Texas Public Information Act. These cost rules are set out in the Texas Administrative Code. Governmental agencies do not have to charge for producing copies of records, and they are permitted to waive the costs if releasing the records benefits the public.
The event in Edinburg on Monday, June 13, 2022, concludes at 4:30 p.m.
Participants may attend either or both sessions.
Questions? For more information on the seminar, contact the FOI Foundation of Texas at 512/377-1575.
The Texas Public Information Act assures that government entities give citizens access to information about what public servants are doing on their behalf—information they need to gain a more complete understanding of how their government works and hold their public officials accountable.
Texas law has long agreed the inherent right of Texans to govern themselves depends on their ability to observe how public officials are conducting the people’s business. That is why the Texas Open Meetings Act was enacted, to ensure that Texas government is transparent, open, and accountable to all Texans.
Ochoa, an advocate for transparency in government, provides regular reports to the public on federal, state, and local laws that impact journalism, communications, freedom of speech issues, and transparency in government.
Ochoa has experience in journalism print publications.
He was the editor-in-chief of the prestigious Texas Law Review at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, becoming the first Latino to serve in that position.
In the context of law school, a law review is an entirely student-run journal that publishes articles written by law professors, judges, and other legal professionals; many law review journals also publish shorter pieces written by law students called “notes” or comments.
According to Ballotpedia, which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan online political encyclopedia that covers federal, state, and local politics, elections, and public policy in the United States:
Openness, accountability, and honesty define government transparency.
In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.
Governments exist to serve the people. Information on how officials conduct the public business and spend taxpayers’ money must be readily available and easily understood.
This transparency allows good and just governance. Government transparency is traditionally broken into three different types: proactive disclosure, requesting public records, and campaign finance disclosure.
Thomas Williams Biographical Sketch
According to his firm’s website:
Thomas Williams has served as a trusted counselor to companies, individuals, lawyers, and his community for more than 30 years.
An experienced litigator and one of only a handful of members of the firm invited to join of the American Board of Trial Advocates, Williams has handled cases across a spectrum of practice areas, including those involving claims of libel, invasion of privacy and other First Amendment issues, copyright and trademark infringement, professional responsibility and professional liability claims, oil and gas disputes, employment disputes, and a variety of commercial, corporate, and business issues.
He is well established in the local legal community, and judges and opponents alike respect his subject-matter knowledge and litigation skill.
Throughout Williams’ career, leaders in his community and profession have turned to him for advice, counsel, and service.
Before the age of 30, he served as vice-chair of the City of Fort Worth Charter Review and Revision Commission.
He was appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas to serve the maximum two terms on the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, a statewide judicial body of 12 attorneys appointed by the Supreme Court to hear certain lawyer discipline cases.
The Tarrant County Bar Association honored Williams with its Professionalism Award, given each year to a Tarrant County lawyer who best “exemplifies, by conduct and character, professional traits that others in the bar should try to emulate.”
He also served two terms as chair of the Tarrant County Bar Foundation.
Selected publications and speeches include:
• “Ethics: Hot Issues in Ethics for Media Lawyers,”;
• Facilitator, MLRC Media Law Conference, Leesburg, VA, September 30, 2021;
• “Can They Really Say That About Me?” Speaker, UT Law 35th Annual School Law Conference, Austin, Texas, February 20-21, 2020
• “Hot Issues in Ethics,” Facilitator, ABA 25th Annual Forum on Communications Law Conference, Austin, Texas, February 7-8, 2020.
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Student Media, Gallery Magazine bring home 53 award from the 2022 Texas Intercollegiate Press Association Convention
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s UTRGV Student Media and ’s Gallery Magazine during the Spring semester brought home a total of 53 wins at the 2022 Texas Intercollegiate Press Association Convention.
The Texas Intercollegiate Press Association, founded in 1909, is recognized as the oldest state collegiate press association in the country.
This year’s convention was held March 23-26, 2022, in Fort Worth and was the first in-person TIPA event since 2020 due to the pandemic.
The annual conference gives out awards in in general magazine, radio, television, online, yearbook, literary magazine and newspaper categories, and more than a dozen on-site contests.
Robert Vélez, Faculty Advisor for Vaquero Radio and Lecturer II for the UTRGV Department of Political Science, attended the convention for the first time. He said he was proud and humbled to see his team bring home the awards.
“To compete against some of these bigger schools and see our hard work recognized is a testament to the dedication of our students,” Vélez said.
The Awards Tally
• Onsite garnered 12 awards.
• Student Media (miscellaneous), 2.
• The Rider, 9.
• Pulse, 3.
• Vaquero Radio, 13.
• Gallery, 4.
Fátima Gámez López, freshman mass communications major and Spanish editor for the Rider, brought home the most individual awards with five, to include Spanish news and features with two first-place awards, two second-place awards and one honorable mention in the On-Site Spanish News Writing Contest.
Gámez López said the competition is an unforgettable experience, especially for someone who hasn’t competed before and is starting her college career. She said she was proud of herself for what she was able to accomplish.
“As a Latina, I think it’s very important to integrate myself into this type of competition,” said Gámez López. “Being a Latina means a lot to me, it means my roots, my family, my past, present, and future. When I got my award, I felt very proud of myself because I showed myself and everyone what I’m capable of doing.”
Support for Student Media
Gámez López said she is grateful to several people in the Communication department for helping her achieve so much, including Azenett Cornejo, Director of Student Media; Michell Escapade, Communication Lecturer II and Faculty Advisor for The Rider; and Dr. Aje-Ori Agbese, Communication Associate Professor and Faculty Advisor for Pulse magazine.
Attending the convention were Dina Vera, Lecturer I in the Department of Communication and Faculty Advisor for KVAQ-TV, Vélez, and Britt Haraway, Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Department and Faculty Adviser for Gallery, UTRGV’s student literary arts magazine.
“It feels amazing to be able to apply the skills our students have been practicing for these past couple of years,” Vera said. “We have some veterans who were unable to attend the convention the past few years because of the pandemic. It was very exciting for everybody.”
Along with bringing home the awards, Vera said, participants came back with valuable input from their peers.
“To be able to hear feedback and actually interact with professionals who are in the business definitely helped many students,” she said.
For more information about the Student Media and Gallery, visit:
Sen. Zaffirini wins 45 awards from Press Women of Texas
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, recently won 45 awards in the Press Women of Texas’ 2021 Professional Communication Contest.
Zaffirini’s Senate District 21 includes all of Starr County.
Founded in 1893, the organization champions Firsts Amendment rights, supports women in communication and funds student scholarships.
She “swept” five categories, earning first, second and third place prizes for her speeches, press releases, advertisements, crisis communication campaigns and page designs.
The senator’s 17 first-place entries will advance to the National Federation of Press Women’s contest, in which they will compete against the work of talented communicators from across the country.
She also won 15 second-place awards, nine third-place awards and four honorable mentions in 24 categories.
“I am delighted to receive these awards from the Press Women of Texas, of which I have been a member since 1973,” Zaffirini said. “They reflect my longstanding commitment to excellence in communication, especially in my capacity as a legislator.”
Notably, her efforts surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Laredo’s boil water notice and Winter Storm Uri won first, second and third place, respectively, in the crisis communication category.
“Communicating during emergencies is integral to effectively serving the constituents of Senate District 21,” Zaffirini said. “I prioritize sharing timely updates, acting with transparency and adapting to meet their needs.”
Of the more than 1,100 awards she has won for her legislative, professional and civic leadership, more than 400 are in communication, including this year’s 45.
Zaffirini holds Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts and PhD degrees in communication from The University of Texas at Austin, where she worked at The Daily Texan as a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, headline writer, assistant editor and special issue editor.
The university and its Moody College of Communication named her a Distinguished Alumna in 2003 and 2016, respectively, and she received the UT Presidential Citation in 2013.
Santana Peralez and Laura Félix contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).