Our Team

Kelly GrajedaDevelopment Project Manager

Kelly is based in Austin and works closely with Phil Ritter, Chief Operating Officer, and Cynthia Riley, Vice President of Philanthropy. She is passionate about connecting people to the causes they care about through philanthropy. Kelly joined MMHPI with over eight years of experience in the nonprofit and public sectors.

Most recently, Kelly worked on the development team with The Trail Foundation, the nonprofit that cares for the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail in the heart of downtown Austin. Before that, she worked at several environmental and arts organizations including EarthShare of Texas, a nonprofit focused on raising unrestricted funds for 40 of Texas’ most respected environmental and conservation organizations, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, and the Serie Project, a nonprofit that has collaborated with some of the most influential Latino artists in the country. In all of these positions, she coordinated and managed grants, built and grew various membership levels, and worked with a variety of stakeholders including boards, corporations, funders, and individuals to help raise millions of dollars and advance each organization’s respective mission.

In May 2017 she received her Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs with certificates in Nonprofit Studies and Arts and Cultural Management and Entrepreneurship. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

Michelle HarperVice President for Child and Family Policy

Michelle has 20 years of experience in health and human services research, policy and program operations. Previously she worked at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) where she spent over 10 years overseeing the operations for a number of social services programs and working on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Texas Women’s Health Program policy. Michelle most recently served as HHSC’s Associate Commissioner for Community Access and Services connecting Texans to social services through partnerships with faith- and community-based organizations. While at HHSC, Michelle also served as the Deputy State Medicaid/CHIP Director for the Office of Policy where she oversaw the state plans, waivers and administrative rules, as well as the analysis and development of program and benefits policy. Michelle also served as a Government Relations Specialist and in several Policy Advisor roles during her tenure at HHSC. Michelle has worked for the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Health Plan analyzing legislation for the Health Plan and Hospitals and leading implementation projects for the Health Plan, the Consumers Union in San Francisco overseeing the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools’ policy agenda for increasing school-based enrollment in health insurance, and Child Trends, a non-profit research organization in Washington, DC, working on health and human services research projects. Michelle has a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nelson Jarrin, JDVice President of Government Affairs

Nelson Jarrin is an attorney with an extensive background at the Texas Capitol. In his role with MMHPI, Nelson oversees legislative policy development and works with stakeholders, state legislative leaders, and key government officials to effect change that will have a positive impact on the delivery of mental health services in Texas.

Nelson previously served as the Legislative Director and General Counsel for Texas State Senator Charles Schwertner, where he managed the Senator’s legislative agenda and supervised all legislative activities of the office. There, he specialized in health-related legislation, Senate Finance Article II, and issues pending before the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and the Senate Committee on Finance. During the 2014-2015 cycle, Nelson oversaw the Sunset Advisory Commission process for Senator Schwertner, which included a review of all state health agencies.

Prior to joining Senator Schwertner’s team, Nelson served as an attorney at the Texas Legislative Council, where he drafted legislation and provided legal advice for the members of the Texas Legislature. During his time at the Legislative Council, he drafted over 800 bills and amendments in the areas of health law, hospital law, occupational regulation, and criminal law.

Nelson received his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame Law School. During his time at Notre Dame, he served as the President of the Hispanic Law Students Association. He received a B.S. in Economics, summa cum laude, from Texas A&M University.

Calvonah JenkinsSmart Justice Project Assistant

Calvonah began her career with the Institute as a Smart Justice intern in 2017 and continued in that role through the beginning of 2018. During her time as an intern, she created supporting materials for mental health, behavioral health, and criminal justice collaborates, provided research support for legislative interim study charges, and supported implementation of the Dallas County Caruth Smart Justice Project by developing technical assistance materials and providing data analysis.

Prior to her internship, Calvonah actively participated in student organizations and worked in various departments at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). As a Research Assistant in the Criminology Department, Calvonah collected qualitative data to contribute to the first complete and standardized database of school shootings in the United States. Calvonah simultaneously served as President of both the Black Student Alliance and UTD’s chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society (Alpha Phi Sigma). She was a distinguished panelist for the university’s Student State of Diversity and worked alongside other student leaders to develop and host the University’s first Community Conversations, an event featuring an interactive panel of criminal-justice officials aimed to educate students and encourage open dialogue about police-community relations.  In recognition of her many contributions, Calvonah received the Leadership, Service and Academic Excellence Award from UTD’s Director of Multicultural Affairs.

Calvonah holds a Bachelor of Arts (Magna Cum Laude) and Master of Science Degree in Criminology. As a Smart Justice Project Assistant, Calvonah will continue to support work across the state aimed at reducing unnecessary justice involvement for persons living with behavioral healthcare needs.

Amanda Mathias, PhDSenior Director of Innovation

Dr. Mathias holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor. With nearly 20 years of experience in both community social services and community mental health, she has served in various clinical and administrative capacities throughout her career. Her service throughout Texas has centered on the indigent, homeless, and underserved populations. In her clinical and programmatic development opportunities, Dr. Mathias has applied her focus to individuals living with serious mental illness, co-occurring substance abuse disorders, and physical medical conditions through evidence-based and innovative care. She has served, directed and led a range of community-based programs, including an innovative Super Utilizer project, homeless services programs, juvenile and adult forensic treatment and assessment, as well as provided the operational and clinical oversight for an inpatient mentally ill offenders rehabilitation center. Her concentration in program development has been in integrated, trauma informed, person centered treatment models while developing supervision/leadership models supporting the clinicians of these highly intense assertive treatment projects.

Dr. Mathias will be applying her expertise to transforming the assertive community treatment model in Texas as well as providing assessment and clinical implementation strategy to improving the local mental health systems. She looks forward to contributing to policy research that will evolve and expand the mental health care systems of Texas to serve all those in need.

Samantha Miller, PhD, ABPPSenior Director of Clinical Implementation

Samantha Miller, PhD, ABPP has collaborated with many of our nation’s leading child and adolescent psychologists, psychiatrists, and learning specialists, implementing evidence-based treatment programs in both clinical and school settings. Samantha consults with psychiatric hospitals, outpatient mental health programs, and therapeutic school settings on the implementation of evidence-based treatments and behavior management protocols.

Samantha has been awarded ABPP specialty board certification in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. This board certification attests to excellence in meeting the advanced education, training, and professional standing established by the specialty, as well as examination by peers attesting to expertise in the specialty. She has expertise in comprehensive diagnostic evaluations and delivering empirically supported treatments, including: Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT International; L1 Certified Trainer), Teacher Child Interaction Training (TCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan Institute|Behavioral Tech; Intensively Trained in DBT-A and DBT-C), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy (AEI advanced certificate), Motivational Interviewing, and exposure plus response prevention.

She earned her doctorate in clinical forensic psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Her educational background also includes a master’s degree from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Stanford University in California.

Phil Ritter, JDChief Operating Officer

Mr. Ritter joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute on May 1, 2014 as Chief Operating Officer. He oversees the judicial, university research, commercial insurance, and resource development activities of MMHPI. 

Prior to joining the Institute, Phil served as Executive Vice President for Government and Stakeholder Affairs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Before joining the airport, Phil held the position of Senior Vice President, Public Affairs with Texas Instruments Incorporated, with global responsibility for government affairs, community relations and corporate political activities. Prior to joining Texas Instruments, he served on the staff of the Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee and as an attorney with Sun Exploration and Production Company in Dallas 

Phil currently serves an elected Trustee of the Dallas County Community College District. In 2004 he led a successful campaign to secure voter approval for $450 million in real estate purchases and facility construction for the DCCCD. He is past Chairman of the Development Board of the University of Texas at Dallas and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Dallas Symphony Association. Mr. Ritter served as Campaign Chair and Chairman of the Board for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. As a member of the Board of Governors of The Dallas Foundation, he chaired the Advisory Board for the $12 million Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment (TRIAD) Fund.  

Mr. Ritter earned an undergraduate degree with honors in Urban Studies, a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Maryland and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is admitted to the practice of law in Maryland and Texas.

Bill Schnapp, PhDInterim Executive Director, The Hackett Center for Mental Health and Senior Policy Advisor

William Schnapp has been involved in the development and delivery of mental health and intellectual and developmental disabilities services for more than 50 years. He is a past member of the Texas Board of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and past Chairperson of the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments. Both of these positions were gubernatorial appointments. He was the Chairperson of the Mental Health Needs Council from 1994 to 2008.

Dr. Schnapp teaches Community, Administrative, and Forensic Psychiatry, Health Policy, and Ethics. He has held faculty appointments at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, The University of Texas School of Public Health, The Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Houston. He was the Director of the Mental Health Policy Analysis Collaborative from 2007 to 2011. He is the author of numerous publications and has written and produced two documentary films.

Dr. Schnapp was the Mental Health Policy Advisor to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett from 2011 to 2018. He served as Senior Policy Advisor to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in 2019. While working in the office of the County Judge, Dr. Schnapp played a significant role in jail diversion, interagency collaboration, children’s services and health and human services during and after Hurricane Harvey.

He has been the Senior Policy Advisor at The Meadows Mental Policy Institute since 2015. Recently, he was appointed a Commissioner in the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health. He has been the recipient of numerous awards for advocacy, community leadership, and excellence in teaching.

Sam ShoreSenior Director of State-Local Collaboration

Sam Shore, MSW, focuses his consultations on creating recovery- and resiliency-oriented systems of care in publically funded settings at the state and local levels. Sam holds a Masters in Social Work from The University of Texas at Austin and is licensed in Texas. He has 35 years of experience in the field of mental health services and policy. Sam has served in several leadership positions in his career and has acquired extensive experience in public mental health services strategic planning, policy development, operations, and evaluation. In his career in the Texas mental health system, Mr. Shore held positions in community mental health, state hospital psychiatric inpatient services, and the state office. Sam served as the project director for several successful SAMHSA grant projects, including the Mental Health Transformation grant, which allowed the state to work with community collaboratives to build a strong foundation of recovery-oriented systems of care for people with serious mental illness and children with severe emotional disturbance. He also served as the state director of mental health services for veterans and their families, and project director of a jail diversion and trauma recovery grant. The jail diversion grant focused on developing state and local policies and practices to benefit veterans and their families. Sam has special interests and experience in self-directed care, integration of physical and behavioral health systems, and trauma-informed care.

Jacqualene Stephens, PhDSenior Advisor for Organizational Development

Dr. Jacqualene Stephens, Ph.D., LMFT, joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy team in July 2017. Dr. Stephens is a clinical psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with over 25 years of experience in both clinical and administrative roles. Her clinical career focused on ensuring access to mental health services for low-income individuals and historically underserved minority communities. Dr. Stephens will support successful change across MMHPI and evaluate topics for staff development. Jacqui will also work with Human Resources during the hiring and onboarding process to support new employees and newly promoted staff with acclimating to the Institute and their individual development plans.

She joins the Institute after having served more than twenty years as the Director of Behavioral Health and Social Services at Parkland Health & Hospital System where she was responsible for a full range of mental health and psychosocial services in a network of primary care clinics, homeless programs and women’s clinics that served a low income, culturally diverse patient population. Dr. Stephens also took the lead on innovative projects such as Shared Medical Appointments, Intensive Case Management of High Risk patients and Telemedicine. In addition to her clinical expertise in the area of integration of behavioral health and primary care, which she believes is essential, Dr. Stephens is also skilled in organizational consultation, executive coaching and cultural competency.

Dr. Stephens has been consultant to the Dallas Cowboys Football Team since 2004, working with players on mental health and family issues and also works with NBA teams and other athletes in the same capacity. She is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, in the departments of Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation Counseling Psychology.

Dr. Stephens has been the recipient of multiple awards including the CEO Award from Parkland Health & Hospital System, Distinguished Psychologist of the Year from the Dallas Psychological Association, the Prism Clinician Award from the Mental Health Association of Greater Dallas and was named Outstanding Alumni from the University of North Texas. For Dr. Stephens “shifting how we as a state think about mental health and ensuring it is seen as essential” is her passion and she is excited to be able to do so as part of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

Paul StokesSenior Director of Intervention and Diversion Policy

Paul is based in Dallas and works closely with John Petrila, Vice President of Adult Policy and BJ Wagner, Senior Director of Smart Justice and Adult Policy. He is a Marine and a 30-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department.

Paul rose through the ranks of the Dallas Police Department serving as Patrol Bureau Assistant Chief, Deputy Chief, Patrol Commander, manager of the Public Information Office, a DPD helicopter pilot, and Commander of the Violent Crimes Task Force. His most recent assignment included serving as Assistant Chief of Police over the Investigations and Tactical Support Bureau which includes Violent Crimes, Homicide, Crimes Against Children, Narcotics, Gang, SWAT, and Criminal Intelligence services.

Throughout his many areas of service Paul was widely known for his ability to establish collaboratives enhancing community relations and public safety for the communities he served. He oversaw the establishment of a regional law enforcement alliance focused on property crime reduction. This area wide effort linked 16 participating agencies across North Texas that utilized emerging technologies to reduce crime. He was instrumental in the establishment of RIGHT Care in Dallas as part of the Caruth Smart Justice Project, an approach to early intervention with people in crisis that is helping transform the care system in Dallas.

Throughout his career Paul, a Master Peace Officer, was awarded the Meritorious Conduct Award, 3 Life Saving Awards, 4 Certificates of Merit, the Kids and Cops Award, a Mayoral Proclamation, National Airborne Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, along with over 85 additional Dallas Police Department and external commendations. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from the Southeastern Oklahoma State University and is a graduate of the Caruth Police Institute and the FBI National Academy.

Ron StretcherSenior Director of Systems Management

Ron Stretcher brings over 30 years of experience in the social, health and judicial services field to MMHPI. Ron recently retired after 26 years with Dallas County, serving the last eleven years as criminal justice director. Ron was instrumental in lowering and stabilizing the jail population, improving pre-trial release services and expanding jail diversion for special populations. Ron also served 10 years as deputy director of the Dallas County Juvenile Department where he developed and implemented family preservation programs, a charter school for local juvenile facilities, and an alternative education program for students expelled from school. Ron also managed several grant programs for Dallas County, including the Ryan White HIV Services and related programs. Prior to joining Dallas County, Ron worked for the Texas Department of Human Services (now part of the state HHSC) in the income assistance division (the former Food Stamps and AFDC programs).

Ron Stretcher represented the Dallas County Commissioners Court on the Board of Directors of the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority, and was chairman of the board during the transition from managed care to a community center model of providing services. Ron was a founding member of the Dallas County Behavioral Health Leadership Team, which coordinates behavioral health services. Ron also founded the Texas Criminal Justice Planners Executive Forum and is a past chair of the North Central Texas Council of Governments Policy Development Committee.

Jessy TylerSenior Director for Justice Research

Jessy has over a decade of experience in Texas criminal justice policy, with an extensive background in data analysis and visualization and policymaking. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked at the Council of State Governments Justice Center (JC). At JC, she worked on state and county level projects, specializing in Texas based recidivism and indigent defense assessment and analysis. She created and managed the Five County Recidivism project after authoring a proxy risk assessment, so counties could have reliable intra and inter-county recidivism comparisons to guide policy making at the pretrial and reentry points. The discoveries from this project were integrated in the key measures of the Stepping Up Initiative, a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail. She was also the lead analyst on the Harris County Public Defender assessment report, which lead to positions and presentations at state and national indigent defense data collection and measurement options.

Prior to JC, Jessy was the senior research analyst at the Office of Court Administration, a consultant with MGT of America, and on the research staff at Texas Workforce Commission where she tracked employment outcomes for participants in Project RIO (Re-Integration of Offenders). Jessy received her bachelor’s degree from University of Texas at Austin, her Master of Public Policy from the College of William and Mary, and her Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Houston.

B.J. WagnerSenior Director of Smart Justice and Adult Policy

B. J. Wagner, MS, joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in the Fall of 2015. In her role with MMHPI B.J. leads the Policy Institute’s Smart Justice work, expanding this reach to the larger behavioral and health systems, assisting communities across Texas increase prevention and intervention services and reduce chronic crisis cycles and justice involvement for people with complex healthcare needs.

B. J. began her career in law enforcement as a county jailer and later as a law enforcement officer in North East and Western Texas. In response to the increasing number of contacts with persons with mental illness she experienced as a law enforcement officer she chose to return to graduate school and completed studies in clinical neuropsychology and counseling psychology at Texas A&M and began working in community mental health clinics. She continued consulting with the field of law enforcement on best practices as she provided services to clientele through local mental health authorities. B. J. has developed curriculum for disciplines across the criminal justice system on mental health awareness, symptom recognition and verbal de-escalation techniques.

B.J. worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) where she developed front end diversion and continuity of care systems for offenders with special care needs and guided Medicaid implementation for limited populations within the State’s prison systems. While at TDCJ, B.J. worked closely with the Department of State Health Services to redesign the TRAG assessment to include criminogenic risk factors to ensure all persons being assessed in the public mental health system also had criminogenic needs addressed. In 2015, after serving as Deputy Director for the Reentry and Integration Division at TDCJ, B. J. joined the Texas Veterans Commission during the regular legislative session. She worked closely with governmental relations analyzing proposed legislation and advising on emerging trends and state and local initiatives to address the needs of trauma affected veterans at risk of justice involvement.

B.J. received recognition from the Texas Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council for contributions to elevating awareness of prevention and care needs for Texans living with brain injury. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Qualitative Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Senior Fellows

Carol Alter, MDSenior Fellow for Medical Integration

Carol L. Alter, MD, is a psychiatrist with over thirty years experience in diverse settings including clinical practice, research, administration, healthcare delivery, and the pharmaceutical industry, with a focus on psychiatric care of patients with medical illness. She has been engaged in research regarding this topic, has helped to implement a number of integration programs across both public and private sector settings and has been an advocate for policy reforms aimed at insuring reimbursement and access to integrated and collaborative care. She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed manuscripts, monographs, and book chapters related to psychosomatic medicine, and value based psychiatric care.

Most recently she served as the Chief Medical Officer of Mindoula Health, the first national provider of technology enabled Collaborative Care. She led efforts at Georgetown University to implement a Collaborative Care program in safety net clinics, and partnered with the AIMS Center, the American Psychiatric Association and the Kennedy Forum to facilitate reimbursement for Collaborative Care.

Her work focusing on delivery of effective behavioral health services in primary care settings has expanded to include a focus on Value Based delivery models, one component of which is use of measurement based care (MBC) and quality measurement. She is the chair of the APA Committee on Performance and Quality Measurement and is leading efforts to ensure that MBC is delivered across all behavioral health services through work with provider and employer organizations and health policy makers.

Currently she provides consultation to several national and regional health organizations who are engaged in implementing integrated behavioral health care and other value based services.

In September 2019 she became the Vice Chair and Professor, Department of Psychiatry at Baylor Scott and White with responsibility for leading behavioral health system development across all of Baylor Scott and White programs.

Dr. Alter received her medical degree from the George Washington University in 1985 and did her psychiatric training at the Mayo Clinic, Cornell University Medical College, and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

David BrownCivic Leader, Author

David Brown is a nationally recognized expert on security, law enforcement and public safety in the inner city. He is the former and longest tenured (since the 1960s) police chief of Dallas, the nation’s ninth largest city. Brown currently serves as a contributor for ABC News where he provides on-air perspective on live security events and news impacting the country.

An active participant in causes impacting the Dallas community, Brown joined the board of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and serves as a Senior Fellow. He also has been named senior advisor to The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, which focuses on grant giving to under-privileged and formerly incarcerated children.
Brown leads from an authentically grounded place of duty and service borne out of commitment to his hometown. Called to serve as an officer based on his upbringing in the inner city, Brown worked his way up through the Dallas police force onto the department’s SWAT team, which he led and served on for seven years (1996-2003.)
When Brown became deputy chief in 2003, Dallas had led the country in violent crimes for six years running. Working side-by-side with (retired) Chief David Kunkle, Brown created impact via accountability among the 3,500+ sworn officers comprising the force. Brown personally led and managed the change initiative, meeting weekly and daily with officers to establish new performance measures. The seven-year change effort led to the most significant reduction in crime in the city’s history, increased diversity and education levels within the department’s managerial ranks, and established clearer performance measures, and advancement and succession criteria.

Brown is perhaps best known for his steady leadership during the worst police shooting in the nation’s history (July 2016.) Direct challenges to protestors, combined with heartfelt commitment to surviving families of the fallen (five) and wounded (nine) officers, will remain etched in the minds and hearts of those impacted by the tragedy. Following the shooting, a news outlet called Brown “America’s chief who comforted a nation.”

Brown’s community-based approach has been recognized as a model for how to enforce laws and police the inner city. David is frequently invited to speak to groups both locally and across the country, including recent engagements at the Bank of America Senior Leadership Meeting, the United Talent Artists Executive Retreat, and the Southwest Airlines Power of Inclusion Meeting. David has been recognized locally in the Dallas community and received both the Nancy Lieberman Charities Trailblazer Award, and the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award, which was presented to Brown by the Maguire Ethics Center at Southern Methodist University (SMU.)

In June, 2017 Brown released Called to Rise: A Life in Faithful Service to the Community That Raised Me, which chronicles his life and professional experiences via personal memoirs.

Brown earned an MBA at Amberton University, Garland, TX (2001) and a bachelor of arts (B.A.) from Dallas Baptist University (1999.) He earlier attended the University of Texas (1979-1983) but left to start what would become a 33-year career in law enforcement.

David and his wife, Cedonia, reside in Dallas with their 10-year-old daughter. When Brown isn’t working or thinking through security issues, he likes to exercise, play golf, travel and spend time with his grandson.

Tony Fabelo, PhDSenior Fellow for Justice Policy

Dr. Tony Fabelo is the Institute’s full-time, Austin-based Senior Fellow for Justice Policy. In this role Dr. Fabelo works with the Institute’s Smart Justice team providing strategic guidance and growing our capacity for local system assessment and system-wide reform. Fabelo was the executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council from 1991-2003. Before that, he served in other capacities assisting, since 1984, five Texas governors and 17 regular biennial Texas legislatures. In recent years he has worked on correctional system reforms in Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana as part of the Justice Reinvestment initiative of the center. He served in 2010-2016 in the US Department of Justice Science Advisory Board. In early 2012 he was appointed to a prestigious panel of the National Academy of Sciences that issued in 2014 a national report on the consequences of high incarceration rates. He was one of the authors of Breaking School Rules, a landmark examination of school discipline policies in Texas that set in motion a national examination of this issue. In 2015 he completed the most comprehensive ever data-driven examination of the Texas juvenile justice system and was the main author of the related report, Closer to Home. In 2017 he assisted the Texas Governor’s Office Criminal Justice Division in the design and implementation of a statewide strategy to combat child sex trafficking. Most recently, he served as the deputy director of the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments. Among other recognitions, his career-long work with the Texas District and County Attorney Association earned him in 2015 the organization’s award for distinguished service to the association and the profession. Fabelo holds a doctorate in government from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Honorable John J. Specia, Jr.

Judge John J. Specia’s career has been dedicated to public service for more than three decades and is defined by his commitment to children and the prevention of child abuse. He provided leadership in establishing the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission and forming Child Protection Courts throughout the state. Judge Specia further brought his experience and vision to the Texas judiciary as the first Jurist in Residence with the Children’s Commission in 2009.

Judge Specia established both the Bexar County Children’s Court, which provides specialized services for children and families, and the Family Drug Treatment Court, which handled Child Protective Services cases and became a model for the state. He was Vice-Chair of the Supreme Court’s Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families, and Chair of the Supreme Court Task Force on Foster Care. Judge Specia served as District Judge of the 225th District Court in San Antonio for 18 ½ years (1988-2006) and was the Administrative Judge for Bexar County District Courts for four of those years. He also served as Master of the 289th Family and Juvenile District Court (1985-1988). He was one of the state’s first Child Welfare Attorneys, serving as a Regional Attorney for the former Texas Department of Human Services (1980-1985), and he was a Family Law Attorney in private practice before becoming a District Judge.

In July 2016, Judge Specia resumed his Mediation, Arbitration and Private Judging Practice at Plunkett, Griesenbeck & Mimari, Inc. (formerly Plunkett & Griesenbeck, Inc.) Judge Specia practiced at Plunkett & Griesenbeck, Inc., from 2007 to 2012, where he conducted over 500 mediations and arbitrations. In 2012, Gov. Rick Perry appointed him Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, where he served until May 2016. Judge Specia spearheaded an overhaul of Child Protective Services, developed system enhancements, and significantly expanded the child abuse and neglect prevention and early intervention program. Under his leadership, Texas became a national leader in child welfare transformation efforts and research into child abuse and neglect fatalities.