When Dr. Jerry Polinard, political science professor at The University of Texas-Pan American, heard about the latest honor bestowed on him, he responded in his typical self-deprecating manner.
"Let me thank the previous two recipients for not returning their awards in protest," he said.
ABOTA is a 6,000 member by invitation only organization of plaintiff and defense litigation lawyers whose goal is to preserve the right to trial by jury. Polinard's nomination - made by the Rio Grande Valley ABOTA chapter - was among those from 16 ABOTA chapters in the state comprising more than 1,000 members.
In a press release announcing the honor, the organization noted his longtime work with Texas educators on the best ways to teach civics and history and his guidance of thousands of students as they made their way into the legal profession.
"He has done that with unfailing objectivity and, above all with passion," the release stated.
Despite his joking manner about the many accomplishments in his 40-year career as a UTPA faculty member, Polinard said he was proud and humbled that this latest honor came from attorneys across the state and from an organization that includes both the plaintiff and defense sides of the bar.
"The 7th Amendment's guaranty of a trial by jury speaks directly to the fundamental principle of a body of citizens, rather than an official of the state sitting in judgment. The civil side of the law reflects the importance, no less now than in 1791, of the citizen arbiter," Polinard said.
His former student and TEX-ABOTA member, Joe Escobedo (BA-Government, '86) said the award typically goes to an educator who has made significant contributions toward preserving and promoting the jury trial system.
Escobedo, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and an attorney with the McAllen firm of Escobedo, Tippit & Cardenas, L.L.P., said Polinard is not only the go-to person in South Texas to help students land in law schools across the country but a lifetime guardian of the right to a jury trial.
"He's devoted his life to basically safeguarding the constitution by letting people know what the constitution is about and making people understand why it is the most important document in our land," Escobedo said.
At UTPA, Polinard, the University's longtime pre-law adviser and expert in constitutional law, is among three faculty members who oversee the Law School Preparation Institute (LSPI), now in its 12th year. The LSPI is a intensive and rigorous academic program held each summer for a select group of students interested in a legal career to better prepare them to enter and succeed in law school. To date, 90 percent of the LSPI graduates who apply to law school are accepted compared to the national average of 60 percent.
His teaching excellence in the university classroom was recognized in 2010 with the prestigious statewide Minnie Stevens Piper Award. He also won the College of Social and Behavioral Science's 2009 Excellence in Teaching Award.
Polinard is also an active participant in pre-law associations to develop and improve law-related education and for years has participated in annual workshops offered by the Law-Related Education Department of the Texas State Bar to elementary through secondary school educators to promote civic education and participation. His work with that organization garnered Polinard the 2006 Leon Jaworski Award for Teaching Excellence in Law Focused Education for the State Bar. He also received the Hidalgo County Bar Association's Liberty Bell Award in 2009.
Former student and TEX-ABOTA member Dan Worthington (BA-Government,'85), calls Polinard his favorite teacher then and one of his favorite people since.
"Jerry has gone out of his way not to just teach us but to get us personally involved and interested in the jury system - whether it was constitutional law class or helping us to get into law school," said Worthington, a graduate of the University of Houston Law School and an attorney at Atlas Hall and Rodriguez, L.L.P. in McAllen. "Some of us, particularly in the RGV needed extra encouragement and he was always willing to help, to give us extra hours. His enthusiasm is genuine."
Polinard's award was presented June 23 at the TEX-ABOTA's Annual Meeting in Santa Fe, N.M. The organization also recognized recipients for Jurist of the Year and Trial Lawyer of the Year at the gathering.