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Jan. 26, 2004

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications, (512) 471.7330
Press/Event Contact: Christine Jacobs, ABA, 312-988-6137,

Prof. Cantú and Judge Furgeson, ’67, Receive ABA’s 2004 Spirit of Excellence Awards
Awards recognize lawyers, judges who advance racial, ethnic diversity in the legal profession

AUSTIN, Texas — Norma V. Cantú, professor of education and law at The University of Texas at Austin, and Judge Royal Furgeson, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, are among six recipients of the 2004 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

The awards will be presented Saturday, Feb. 7, at a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio during the 2004 ABA Midyear Meeting.

Instituted in 1996, the Spirit of Excellence Awards recognize the accomplishments of lawyers and judges who have advanced racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession as leaders and mentors, so that others might succeed. The winners are selected for their achievements in promoting the advancement of lawyers from diverse backgrounds, as well as for their contributions in the area of professional excellence.

“These awards are extremely well deserved. Judge Furgeson and Professor Cantú have each in their own way worked for social justice and racial diversity,” said UT Law Dean Bill Powers. “I give them both my most heartfelt congratulations,” he added.

For all of her career, Cantú has focused her civil rights advocacy efforts on increasing educational opportunities for minorities, women and the disabled. During her eight years of service as assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration, Cantú implemented national educational policies, created new educational guidelines, and resolved cases with positive impact for more than six million students annually.

“As the nation's primary educational civil rights enforcer, Norma Cantú set the standard for fair enforcement of civil rights laws in the arena of education,” said Lawrence R. Baca, chair of the ABA commission. “Under her leadership, the Department of Education experienced significant increases in the number of successfully resolved illegal discrimination complaints. Cantú was also successful in reinvigorating morale among the individuals working at this governmental agency.”

Prior to her work with the Department of Education, Cantú served for three years as the U.S. representative to the International Commission on the Child. She also worked 14 years as regional counsel and education director of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). In this capacity she litigated numerous class action civil rights cases at the state and federal levels to help minority women and low-income children.

Cantú graduated summa cum laude from Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas, at the age of 19. She received her law degree from Harvard University Law School in 1977.

U.S. District Judge Furgeson, who has served on the federal bench for nearly 10 years, has dedicated his career to public service and the promotion of racial diversity and equality in the legal profession in his area in Texas. As president of the El Paso Bar Association in 1982, he oversaw the establishment of a mandatory pro bono program, one of the nation's first, in which every member was required to handle two pro bono domestic relations cases a year. In an effort to make the legal profession more inclusive and diverse, Furgeson sought to significantly raise the number of Hispanic members of the El Paso Bar Association, so that the organization reflected the community where it exists and which it serves.

“In addition to the contributions Judge Furgeson has made to making the face of the law more reflective of society, he has, as a jurist, proven to be an excellent representative of the federal legal system to the minority populations that largely make up the juries that sit in his courtroom. As he himself once noted, ‘In America, we do justice through juries.’ Judge Furgeson's ability to impart the importance of a jury's role in preserving justice is highly valuable to the American legal system,” said Baca, ABA commission chair.

Although Furgeson handles one of the most active federal criminal dockets in the country, he still devotes time to the State Bar of Texas' Judicial Relations Committee, which he chairs, a variety of educational and public speaking engagements on the topics of diversity and equality for minorities, and numerous community service activities throughout western Texas.

He received his undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University and his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1967.

The American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is a catalyst to change the legal profession to reflect the society it serves. It helps racially and ethnically diverse lawyers advance their careers and standing in the profession. Its leadership, programs and information help the profession understand and eliminate racism, bigotry and discrimination. The commission works to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession, and thus enrich it.

The American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.