On Monday, Oct. 24, Texas CASA, in partnership with the Texas Center for the Judiciary and the Texas Children’s Commission, hosted the annual Judicial Appreciation Reception. Each year, Texas CASA hosts this reception during the Texas Child Welfare Judges Conference to thank the judges for their support of CASA, honor their work for children and families, and applaud their achievements and innovation.
This year, we recognized Judge Gary Coley, Jr. with the Judicial Innovation and Leadership Award.
Judge Coley has presided over the 74th District Court in McLennan County since January 2009 and is widely regarded as an exceptional jurist, both in his community and throughout the state. He spearheaded many initiatives in Waco and has been a visible leader in preventing and addressing the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the critical importance of pre-petition legal representation.
Judge Coley co-founded the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition in 2014, one of the best organized and most prominent anti-trafficking coalitions in the state and a model for many other jurisdictions. In 2021, he invited members of the community to pilot pre-petition legal representation in the first-of-its-kind program in the state. He is also a champion for adopting a different approach to serving youth involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, sometimes referred to as “crossover” or “dual-status” youth. Furthermore, he was one of the original Trial Skills Training Faculty Members—this hands-on program was designed to improve the litigation skills of less-experienced attorneys across the state. Judge Coley also serves as Vice-Chair of the Children’s Commission, and has served as an adjunct professor at Baylor Law School for almost two decades.
Anna Futral, Executive Director of CASA of McLennan County, joined us at the reception to honor Judge Coley.
“Judge Coley is truly a kind man who deeply cares about his community and the vulnerable populations that he serves,” she said. “He does a great job bringing a no-nonsense approach to situations with compassion and caring.”
In her opening remarks, Texas CASA CEO Vicki Spriggs highlighted the amazing work of the CASA staff and volunteers across Texas. They have continued to bring an unwavering dedication to the children and families they serve—even in the midst of a capacity crisis and major systemic change. She also discussed the implementation of the Collaborative Family Engagement approach, celebrating that as of Fiscal Year 2023, the entire CASA network is involved in family engagement and connection-informed advocacy. Lastly, she updated the judges on Texas CASA’s preparations for the 88th Legislative Session convening in January 2023, discussing our legislative priorities and how we will be working to advance policies that promote the best interest of children and families in the child welfare system.
“CASA can only do its work when it is appointed by a judge,” said Vicki in her remarks. “Thank you for your support for the work of CASA. Thank you for the strength of your partnership and leadership in each of your districts, but also at a statewide level through the amazing work of the Children’s Commission.”
Thank you to Judge Coley, and to all of the child welfare judges and other partners who joined us. You help make Texas a better place!