The Earl Carl Institute Celebrates 25 Years of Service

ABOVE: Marcia Johnson, Founder of ECI

The Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy, Inc. (ECI) is one of the best-kept secrets in Houston, but it is a secret no longer, as the highly impactful institution is celebrating 25 years and is inviting the community out to find out more of what they do to make a difference.

This Friday, November 17, starting at 5:30 PM, the staff, Board of Directors, past presidents, alumni, community leaders, partners and friends of the Earl Carl Institute, will come together to commemorate the 25 years of service ECI has had of being the voice at the table for change on behalf of traditionally disenfranchised communities. The community is encouraged to come out to see how the institution has grown, while enjoying free food, drinks and networking.

The Earl Carl Institute, which is located at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, was established in 1992 by Professor Marcia Johnson as a research and writing think tank designed to serve as a provider of resources for Thurgood Marshall School of Law students to enhance their research and writing skills. The Institute is a nonprofit corporation exempt from taxation under §501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Institute was named in honor of Professor Earl Carl, a founding faculty member of the Law School. Professor Carl, blind from an early age, graduated from Fisk University before going on to earn his law degree and Master of Law Degree from Yale University Law School. A symbol of personal triumph over misfortune, Professor Carl is a reminder that we are limited only by barriers we choose not to overcome.

The Institute has grown significantly from its creation as a skills enhancement program for law students to an advocacy organization that trains students in research, writing, advocacy skills, leadership, office management, and problem solving. The Institute expanded its advocacy initiative in winter of 2001 when it established the Institute for Trial Advocacy which has evolved into the Center for Civil Advocacy. In the spring of 2003 and 2004 respectively, the expansion continued with the creation of the Drug Defense and Advocacy Clinic and the Center for Human and Civil Rights; neither of which are currently in operation. However, in 2005, the Institute added the Center for Government Law to its programs and in 2010 added the Center for Civil Advocacy and the Center for Criminal Justice. In 2007, the Institute launched its Opal Mitchell Lee Property Preservation Project providing free legal services to qualified low income clients. The most recent addition to the ECI came in 2009, with the initiation of the ECI Juvenile Justice Project. Also, in 2009, ECI added a third clinical program when the Thurgood Marshall Law School Innocence Project was placed under the auspices of ECI. All of ECI’s current clinical programs provide free legal representation to individuals and promote public service by law students.

Since its inception, the Institute has grown from one person, Professor Marcia Johnson, to five permanent staff currently, along with three contract staff, numerous student interns and scores of volunteers. Its location has changed six times: (1) a law school office; (2) the NAACP Building on Wheeler; (3) a Fannin address; (4) a trailer on the campus of Texas Southern University; (5) two offices and a basement conference room at Thurgood Marshall School of Law; and (6) to its current location in the TSU “Auto Mechanics Building.”

Recent programs, activities, and accomplishments of the Institute include the following highlights from 2016:

  • Receipt of funding (grants/appropriations) in the amount of $389,933 and donations in the amount of $2,957.
  • Employment of 38 students as researchers/writers and student clerks/attorneys.
  • Convening of 8 very successful community education and CLE programs.
  • Increase of nearly 3000 requests for assistance from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project.
  • Saved or obtained for ECI’s Property Preservation clinic clients, a calculated value in assets of $2,893,613 primarily in real property.
  • The ECI Juvenile Justice Project saw a 71% case dismissal rate in delinquency courts.
  • Worked with more than 30 collaborators to provide group advocacy for like-minded policies and to provide community education forums.

Youth Based Initiatives

The Earl Carl Institute (ECI) takes great pride in and is widely recognized for its youth based initiatives aimed at helping children of color, particularly African American juveniles, to have successful school experiences and to ultimately lead a productive life. ECI’s work is on local, state, and national levels and has been recognized on the front page of the New York Times, in the Washington Post, on PBS NewsHour, Houston Matters, Breitbart News, Buzzfeed, the Houston Chronicle and numerous other publications and radio and television stations. ECI’s Youth focused work endeavors to confront issues where African American youth are over- or under-represented or have disparate outcomes. The Institute’s youth-centered work is to make that happen through a multifaceted approach.

  • The Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy’s Black Girls Initiative (BGI) expands its multidisciplinary initiatives aimed at reducing disproportionate minority contact among Houston area youth to examine and address the impact of significant bias against Black girls through the creation and distribution of data-driven reports, the provision of wrap-around legal services, educator training and policy advocacy.
  • The ECI Juvenile Justice Project addresses the issue of disproportionate minority contact, through a holistic approach, by providing legal representation to children who are in multiple systems including the criminal justice system, disparate educational systems, the mental health system and foster care system. The project currently has the following three components: (1) representation (2) training for community organizations and attorneys involved in these systems, as well as policy advocacy through education for lawmakers, and (3) potential participation in impact litigation.
  • The TMSL STREET LAW Program is an educational, legal outreach program that trains current law students to teach law at schools throughout Houston-Harris County. The mission of the Program is to empower youth through interactive education about law, democracy, and human rights while furthering the professional development of law students.

Criminal Justice Reform

One of ECI’s most popular programs with law students and volunteers from all disciplines is the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project. 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. Statistics show that, like most problems with our criminal justice system, the problem of wrongful conviction impacts the African American community more than any other community. The disparate impact of wrongful conviction on the African American community is shown in Texas’ DNA exonerations. Of the first 45 persons whose convictions were found to be wrongful as the result of post-conviction DNA tests, more than 80% are African American.

Building African American Wealth

The Opal Mitchell Lee Property Preservation Program (OMLPPP) addresses the legal challenges lower income residents 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. Services include counsel and advice to direct legal representation in actions involving probate, adverse possession, clearing title to property, partitions, mortgage, homeowner association and tax foreclosure defense, property tax exemptions, formation of nonprofit corporations to assist with community development, and consumer debt issues.

Other Current Projects:

  • THE BRIDGE: Perspectives on Legal & Social Justice Journal and Symposium
  • Policy Advocacy/Student Papers
  • Opal Mitchell Lee Property Preservation and Foreclosure Prevention Project Clinic
  • ECI Magazine, “Focus on Justice”
  • ECI Annual Symposia on Indigent Defense and Child Welfare

Those who would like to help the Earl Carl Institute celebrate 25 years of making a difference, are asked to RSVP at or email the Institute at (please include “25th Anniversary” in subject line). You may also RSVP by telephone to 713.313.1139 or contact Sarah R. Guidry at 713.313.1321.