Congratulations to the winners of the inaugural 2016 Equal Justice Works Public Interest Awards!
This year's winners exemplify what it takes to be a public interest law superstar, providing extraordinary service to their communities through pro bono projects, student-run organizations, law school clinics, internships, and more.
The Equal Justice Works Public Interest Awards are presented to current law students of Equal Justice Works member schools who show a demonstrated commitment to public interest law and pro bono work. Special consideration is given to law students who make a lasting impact on their communities.
Check out the winners below!
Northeast Region - Dana Mangiacapra and Michael Papson, Touro Law Center
Dana Mangiacapra (3L) and Michael Papson(3L) are co-organizers of a pro bono initiative called Breaking Barriers, the first ever re-entry program for formerly incarcerated residents in Suffolk County, New York. Launched in March 2015, Mangiacapra and Papson worked tirelessly to get the project off the ground. From working with supervising attorneys to recruiting fellow law students, both co-organizers have ensured that Breaking Barriers will continue to help reform lives long after they graduate from Touro Law Center. Breaking Barriers is the only program of its kind in the county.
Mid-Atlantic Region – Frances Davila, NYU School of Law
Frances Davila (3L) has already dedicated her legal education to protecting vulnerable immigrants facing deportation. As a community organizer and activist, Davila uses her legal knowledge to inform immigrant communities of their rights while supporting their advocacy efforts. During her 1L year, Davila helped launch the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Project (IRP) and the Detention Advocacy Project. Both organizations focus on working with undocumented immigrant populations to ensure they have competent and free legal services. Davila plans on using her law degree to to zealously represent immigrants overburdened with legal struggles.
Southeast Region – Jenny Thoma, West Virginia University
Jenny Thoma (3L) is currently the president of Public Interest Advocates (PIA), her law school’s student-run organization dedicated to public interest law. In this capacity, she leads fundraising efforts to help financially support law students who want to work with public interest organizations. Thoma also pulls double duty as the head of publicity for PIA. Every year, she has received public interest fellowships to work with nonprofit legal organizations including the Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center and the Kanawha County Public Defender’s Office. Thoma currently works as a student attorney for the West Virginia Innocence Project, a post-conviction remedies practice for wrongfully convicted prisoners.
Central Region – Jordan Michael Thompson, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University
In September 2015, Jordan Michael Thompson (2L) started “Teams for Troops” (TFT), a nonprofit that finances military care packages for deployed soldiers. The care packages include necessities like toiletries and snacks, in addition to fun items like sports merchandise. A portion of the donations also go to medical research for traumatic brain injuries. Thompson also facilitates the Veterans Treatment Courts Seminar to inform law students and community members of the unique challenges facing Alabama’s veterans involved in the criminal justice system. His passion for working with military personnel stems from his involvement with the U.S. Army National Guard, and he is currently a Heavy Weapons Infantry Officer and Platoon Leader.
Midwest Region – Patrick M. Higgins, University of Cincinnati College of Law
Patrick Higgins (3L) is currently an Arthur Russell Morgan Fellow in Human Rights at University of Cincinnati Law’s Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. He has completed internships with Dejusticia, a human rights think tank in Colombia that works with internally-displaced citizens, and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE). In addition, Higgins participates in his law school’s Domestic Violence & Civil Protection Order Clinic and clerks for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio’s Immigration practice group. Following law school graduation, he will work the Ohio Poverty Law Center, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, and Southeastern Ohio Legal Services as a 2016 Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation Justice for All Fellow.
Mountain Region – Nubia Pena, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
Nubia Pena (3L) dedicated her law school career to working against the school-to-prison pipeline. She has provided local and national workshops to a wide-ranging audience, including educators, social workers, law enforcement, youth advocates, and more. While enrolled in her law school’s Public Policy Clinic, she volunteered with the ACLU’s Racially Just Utah Coalition. In addition, Pena is a Fellow in her law school’s Pro Bono Initiative Program and has completed over 100 hours of pro bono service to a U-Visa assistance program. In 2014, Pena created the Social Justice Student Initiative to specifically address issues of injustice on a local, national, and international level. The organization’s projects have involved awareness efforts around everything from racial injustice to human trafficking.
West Coast Region – Catherine Recinos, University of California, Los Angeles School of Law
Catherine Recinos (3L) is a member of the highly competitive David Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy Program at UCLA School of Law. She also holds leadership positions within the UCLA Indigenous Journal of Law, the La Raza Law Students Association, and the Native American Law Students Association. In addition, Recinos works with the UCLA Tribal Legal Development Clinic, the El Centro Legal Clinics, and the Violence Against Women Act and Immigration Clinic, where she helps domestic violence survivors in the greater Los Angeles area obtain legal immigration status. She also volunteers with the Re-entry Clinic helping formerly incarcerated women in South Central Los Angeles transition back into the community.
Southwest Region – Berenice Medellin, University of Texas School of Law
Berenice Medellin (3L) helped develop the inaugural Pro Bono program at her law school, completing over 160 pro bono hours with local public interest law organizations. She has served as a Pro Bono Scholar for the past two years, helping to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in the Youth Court program and creating ongoing “street law” opportunities where law students provide “know your rights” workshops to community organizations, schools, and nonprofits. Medellin is currently a student attorney for the Domestic Violence Clinic, where she helps domestic violence survivors with their legal issues and connects them to resources.