Free Legal Services

The Earl Carl Institute currently operates three advocacy projects: the Opal Mitchell Lee Property Preservation and Foreclosure Defense Project (OMLPPP), the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project (TMSLIP) and the ECI Juvenile Justice Project (JJP).

  1. Opal Mitchell Lee Property Preservation Project (OMLPPP) began in September of 2007, through a grant from Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) which has continued to fund the project annually since that time. The OMLPPP addresses the legal challenges lower income people face in maintaining their real property and enhancing their wealth. The project’s focus is to help economically disadvantaged communities retain and grow wealth through assistance with maintaining or obtaining real property. Statistics have shown that 95% of African American wealth is in their home.

    Opal Mitchell Lee

    The program was named after Ms. Opal Mitchell Lee, whose family acquired more than one hundred acres of mineral land in East Texas after the death of her great grandfather. Over the years many of her relatives died intestate, leaving title to the land fractured among numerous heirs. As a result of being unable to locate all heirs to share in payment of tax liens, the property was lost in a tax foreclosure sale. The legal issues surrounding Ms. Lee’s loss are widespread within many disenfranchised communities and it is our goal to help reduce property loss of this and other types.


    This Project is supervised by a contract attorney. On average, ECI hires two students per semester to serve as student attorneys for the project. Services include actions involving probate, adverse possession, clearing title to property, partitions, mortgage, homeowner association and tax foreclosure defense, property tax exemptions, formation of nonprofit corporations that assists with community development and consumer credit card debt issues.

    This program has income qualifications of 125% of poverty. Our service area is the general Harris County community and its contiguous counties (Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Liberty, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Waller). To determine your eligibility and apply for services, please call our intake specialist Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. at 713.313.1159 or 713.313.1139 or email ecattorney@tmslaw.tsu.edu with the subject line “INTAKE”
  2. ECI Juvenile Justice Project - provides direct legal representation to students in (1) Class C Misdemeanor cases pending in adult Justice of the Peace and Municipal Courts in Texas, (2) school meetings and ARDS related to special education needs and school disciplinary actions, and (3) expunctions and sealing records of juveniles. The Juvenile Justice Project (JJP) also has an educational and impact litigation component. The project seeks to highlight and reduce the burgeoning and disparate use of student tickets amongst minority communities and other issues related to the school-to-prison pipeline. African American students, and to a lesser extent Hispanic students, are significantly overrepresented in discretionary suspensions and disciplinary alternative school referrals for nonviolent offenses. Recent reports show that of the 97 percent of discretionary tickets issued by school districts, African American students statewide receive approximately twice the number of school citations as their populations in the school districts. In fact, researchers, in a recent statewide study, found that African-American students had a 31 percent higher likelihood of a school discretionary action as compared to otherwise identical white and Hispanic students.

    The project as operated since 2009 with financial support from the Thurgood Marshall School o f Law and grants from the Litigation Section from the State Bar of Texas, Texas Bar Foundation and the Houston Endowment. This Project is also supervised by a contract attorney. On average, ECI hires two students per semester to serve as student attorneys for the project.

    Anyone needing those services is eligible to receive FREE legal representation from our Project. Our geographic service area is generally Harris County and its contiguous counties (Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Liberty, Montgomery, Fort Bend, & Waller). We do not have any income guidelines associated with this project. Intake is conducted Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. by calling 713.313.1130 or 713.313.1139 or by emailing jjpatty@tsu.edu with the subject line “INTAKE”.

  3. The Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project (TMSLIP) is operated under the auspices of the CCJ. The Innocence Project at Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSLIP) was created in June of 2007. In March of 2009, the Innocence Project began operating under the Earl Carl Institute for Legal & Social Policy, Inc. The Project promotes student development by employing a full time supervising attorney as well as numerous law student investigators who review claims of actual innocence. Like most statistics associated with our criminal justice system the problem of wrongful conviction impacts the African American community more than any other. The reflection of disparate impact on the African American community is caught in Texas’ DNA exonerations; of the first 45 persons found to be wrongfully convicted based on DNA tests more than 80 % are African American. TMSLIP currently has more than 1300 requests for service.

    Our program only investigates claims of actual innocence. That is, we only take cases where there was either: no offense; or there was an offense and they arrested the wrong person, and, cases where new evidence potentially exists that was not presented in the original trial and that would exonerate the convicted person. We also do not accept cases that are on direct appeal.

    Inmates or friends and relatives of inmates who have been wrongfully convicted may make a formal request for assistance by completing a TPIQ (Texas Prisoner Innocence Questionnaire) and mailing it to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project, Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy, Inc., 3100 Cleburne St., Houston, Texas 77004. For more information, please call 713.313.1161.

    To check the status of your request for assistance click here.  You will need your ECI case number.

To Donate to an ECI Legal Services Project

Please make checks payable to Earl Carl Institute, and mail to: 3100 Cleburne St., Houston, TX 77004. Please specify which program you wish to donate to on your check.