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2019 Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) Conference.
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avatar for Regina Kelly

Regina Kelly

Lone Star Legal Aid
Chair, NLADA Client Council
Houston TX
Regina Kelly is best known for her wrongful conviction in Texas. She stood up to an aggressive district attorney (who has since been barred from practicing law) and decided to stay in jail instead of taking a plea deal for a crime she did not commit. After winning her case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New York heard about it and wanted to represent Regina in a groundbreaking civil lawsuit that would forever change Texas laws and her life. Regina went on to win her civil suit against the district attorney, the sheriff's department, the police department, the Drug Task Force, the City of Hearne, and several individuals. This case break up the "good-ol’-boy" justice system not only in Texas but also around the world.

Regina later agreed to a movie production company’s offer to turn her fight for justice into a movie. The award-wining movie, "American Violet," is widely available. She later did a documentary for PBS called "The Plea" along with a few other documentaries for the ACLU to use as training tools for its attorneys.

For the past 19 years, Regina has traveled the world training chief defenders and their staffs on various ways to improve their work on behalf of clients. Her goal has always been to get defenders to understand they play an important role in the justice system. They must remember their clients are human and not just another part of a caseload. She speaks at universities around the world, and many have adopted her story as part of their curricula. She serves on Lone Star Legal Aid’s executive board of directors in Houston, Texas. She is also on staff in the Justice for Crime Survivors Unit at Lone Star’s branch office in Bryan, Texas. Regina speaks on reentry not only from a woman’s view but also from a mother’s perspective. Regina currently serves on the board of directors of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and is also chair of NLADA’s Client Council. She was recently elected to be president of the Statewide Client Council for Texas.

Regina has received a host of awards, including the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty from the ACLU. She was the youngest and the first African American woman to win this award. Other awards include the NAACP Image Award, the NAACP President’s Award, the National Congress of Black Women’s Medal of Courage, among others. Regina has been featured in O and Essence magazines.