AMARILLO, Texas – Attorney Jeff Blackburn, a native of Amarillo, Texas, passed away at the age of 65 on Tuesday in New Mexico following a fight with liver cancer, according to a statement from family and colleagues.
As stated in his obituary published by his most recent law company, Tisdell Law Firm, Blackburn began his legal career in Amarillo in 1983 and dedicated his decades-long career advocating for underserved individuals, frequently for no charge, in criminal and civil rights matters throughout Texas. He was referred to as the “trouble-making lawyer in West Texas” by Texas Lawyer publication due to his handling of numerous high-profile matters, such as whistleblower and death penalty trials.
After taking on the cases of 38 individuals who had been detained in Tulia, Oklahoma in 2001 on drug-related charges, Blackburn became a key figure in the criminal justice reform movement. In the ensuing years, his clients were cleared in what his obituary described as the “biggest mass pardon in US history,” during which time he organized and oversaw a national coalition of attorneys. Blackburn later helped shape the legislation for criminal justice reform that entailed defunding drug task groups.
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Along with Mike Ware, Blackburn co-founded the Innocence Project of Texas in 2006. From 2006 to 2015, he served as the organization’s Chief Counsel. He also played a crucial role in Tim Cole’s posthumous acquittal and the subsequent adoption of additional changes, such as the Tim Cole Compensation Act and other laws and regulations.
In addition, as stated in the online obituary, Blackburn served as the chair of the State Bar’s Committee on Legal Services to the Poor in Criminal Matters, co-authored a number of sets of recommendations for criminal defense attorneys, published reports on criminal justice issues, and won a number of accolades on the state and federal levels. In addition, Texas Monthly rated him as a “Super Lawyer” for more than 15 years before to his passing. Outside of the professional sphere, Blackburn’s obituary noted that his life “was about much more” than only law and criminal justice reform.
“He loved life, his family, travel, great conversation, good music, organic farming, and the mountains and deserts of northern New Mexico. Perpetually curious and open-minded, he read widely in history, economics, and philosophy. He loved art, poetry, and literature. He was a terrific father and grandfather and a loyal and generous friend and mentor to countless people throughout his life,” read his obituary, “In his last months, Jeff was strongly supported by his family and dozens of close friends and colleagues, many of whom journeyed to Taos to see him before he passed and deserve special thanks. The wonderful people of Red Willow Hospice in Taos provided close spiritual and medical support to Jeff and his family that went far above and beyond what could ever be expected by caregivers.”
He is survived by his sons Sam and John, his daughter-in-law Scotney, his two grandkids Archer and Oliver, and his companion Jessy Tyler, according to Blackburn’s obituary. On March 4 at 1 p.m. at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens, there will be a public event in addition to a modest private ceremony in El Prado for family and close friends.
The obituary also mentioned Blackburn’s final endeavor, which was to start a new civil rights organization in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Instead of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Rio Grande Regional Justice Project through his project partner Kathryn Hardy, an attorney, at firstname.lastname@example.org.