Class of 2009: Where are they now?
We are proud to share the accomplishments of our inaugural class of Gates Scholars, the class of 2009. Each of the four graduates has obtained a meaningful public service position. This gives us a glimmer of the ultimate power of this program – to afford talented students the ability to take on important public service work without burden of law school debt.
Emily Alvarado: Project Coordinator for Affordable Housing Advocacy Project at the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County
Vanessa Torres Hernandez: Judicial Clerkship, Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, 9th Circuit (starting September 2010)
Colleen Melody: Judicial Clerkship, Judge Ronald Gould, 9th Circuit
Mike Peters: Equal Justice Works Fellow, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Gates PSL Programming This Year
Federal Judge Mark Bennett tells UWLS students about crack cocaine, meth labs, and social justice
By Hilary Hammell, 1L
The first case he ever took made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Mark Bennett, fresh out of Drake University Law School, did oral argument and won. Before being appointed a Federal Judge in 1994, Bennett practiced civil-rights law in Iowa, and his words to the Gates Scholars and other UW law students on Oct. 5 emphasized that despite all of his groundbreaking achievements as a judge, “representing clients…is the greatest privilege of our profession.”
In lunch and breakfast chats and in a keynote speech, Bennett described to UW law students his fascinating journey from civil rights practice to the federal bench, and the ways in he has been able to use the law to further social justice. Seeing racial inequality growing up inspired Bennett to devote his life to civil rights law. Now, as a judge in the Northern District of Iowa, Bennett has challenged nationwide sentencing practices with racially discriminatory impact. He was the first federal judge to reject the sentencing ratio that disproportionately penalized users of crack cocaine over users of powdered cocaine with a 100-to-1 ratio. He began sentencing crack users with a 20-to-1 ratio instead [a sentence 20 times greater per 1 gram of crack than a sentence for 1 gram of cocaine]. When this approach was challenged but ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Bennett started sentencing with a “one to one ratio. To my knowledge, I was the first judge who did this. And it’s not been challenged,” said Bennett.
Bennett describes the Northern District of Iowa as poor and rural, with about 70% of his criminal docket having to do with methamphetamine labs. Bennett described how a federal drug policy on meth production meant well but has led to a problematic result. “People used to be able to make methamphetamine with that stuff you can buy at the drugstore, pseudoephedrine. Well they cracked down on that, and now, instead of having less meth, people are importing it from Mexico. And it’s much stronger, and much more dangerous.”
“These kinds of real-world examples brought home just how complicated it can be to try to craft policy responses to social problems, how they can backfire,” said Joan Altman, a Gates Scholar in the class of 2012. “But Judge Bennett’s other stories showed us how judicial solutions are often just as complicated,” she added. Bennett believes strongly in a ‘case-by-case’ approach to sentencing, which is why he’s been a vocal opponent of federal mandatory minimums. On the other hand, sometimes he sentences a defendant to many years more than the minimum sentence calls for. But Bennett’s deep-seated belief in human dignity and civil rights is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that he actually travels to federal prisons and visits the people he has sentenced. Bennett says he has visited over 100 prisons.
Beyond his striking examples of working on the front lines, Bennett’s most inspiring words had to do with something much more personal. He told us to “find your passion and follow it,” without cynicism. He also told us to refuse to aim low, no matter how absurd our goal might seem. In the 1970s, he filed Iowa’s first petition for a same-sex marriage license. It was denied. In 2009, Iowa legalized same-sex marriage. “Don’t be afraid to fight losing battles,” Bennett said. “Somebody has to, and eventually, you might even win.”
You can download Judge Bennett's talk or any of the other speaker series events, from the UW School of Law multimedia gallery.
What I Did Last Summer
Miranda Strong, 2L, Disability Law Center of Alaska in Anchorage
I spent the summer working at the Disability Law Center of Alaska in Anchorage. It was nice to be back in my home state and to see what working in a Protection and Advocacy Center is like firsthand after dreaming about working there for almost five years. As a federally mandated Protection and Advocacy Center, the Disability Law Center of Alaska provides legal aid for Alaskans with disabilities that have legal issues relating to their disability.
Working at the Disability Law Center re-affirmed my career path. On my first day my supervising attorney led me back to my own office with a desk full of juicy legal documents on a special education transportation case. I drafted a state complaint on my first day, and was assigned other interesting projects such as a research memo for election access involving statutory interpretation, social security hearing preparation, and a pleading for a special education (sped) neglect case. It was refreshing after the first year of law school to be able to dive into problems—like a standardized testing sped case—and emerge with creative arguments—such as unearthing a definition that undercut the District’s main argument. I am lucky: Sped law has been one of the most interesting sub areas of disability rights law to me—and it made up the majority of my summer work.
Possibly the most satisfying experience was drafting a systemic complaint against a behavioral education institution where I had witnessed horrible conditions at an earlier job as a mental health associate. Ah, how refreshing to be able to do something on a larger level! I cannot wait to have more influence on these inefficient and harmful special education practices once I fully enter the legal profession.
I am so thankful that I was able to experience the work culture at the Disability Law Center as a summer legal intern; now I am even more convinced that it is my dream job!
Netsanet Tesfay, 3L, Afromedianet, Seyssel France
My summer in Seyssel, France, working at Afromedianet, a non-profit organization specializing in development and human rights in Africa, gave me an opportunity to learn more about the root causes of human trafficking in Africa. The office located in Seyssel, France is small (five staff plus five interns) but the network of journalists and independent experts working with Afromedianet is extensive and includes many people who work for UN agencies in Europe (especially Geneva) and Africa (particularly Ethiopia, the headquarters in Africa for many UN agencies).
I spent the first month researching human trafficking in Africa, with a special emphasis on the Central African Republic (CAR), Gabon, and Chad. Human trafficking is a global issue as almost every country is affected either as a source, transit point, or destination but the situation is especially bleak in Africa. In Africa, war, limited resources, and corruption have made solutions to human trafficking difficult to implement. This, coupled with the fact that many countries in Africa have not made efforts to criminalize the trafficking of adults, has created an environment where human trafficking flourishes. Sometimes, it was difficult to research human trafficking as the issue is complex and multi-dimensional. Any solutions must address the root causes, such as poverty and societal discrimination against women. In many parts of the world, women are left economically vulnerable through widowhood, divorce, separation, or abandonment; they often are forced to migrate in search of wage labor and accept substandard employment in order to survive.
It was apparent to me, from working with human trafficking victims in 2008 (at the Urban Justice Center in New York) and my research this summer that criminalization, though necessary to effectively combat human trafficking, cannot alone solve the problem. Solutions that only empower law enforcement officials and focus only on prosecutions are ineffective especially in countries where government accountability is low. Thus, in order to effectively address the complex and interlinked factors of human trafficking, a comprehensive and long term approach that addresses the root factors of human trafficking must be adopted. I was glad for the opportunity to continue to work on these issues and I hope to have the chance to solve these difficult problems in my legal career.
What are Current Scholars Up To?
Good, Clean, Fair Food. Can we have it all?
Michael Geoghegan, 3L
The Good, Clean, Fair Food panel on October 21, 2009 at Town Hall Seattle brought together food eaters with food growers to talk about how fair treatment of farm workers coincides with growing demand for clean and healthy food. The panelists, assembled by the Laurel Rubin Farm Worker Justice Project, represented farm workers, organic farmers, consumers, and national food policy advocates.
This conversation was meaningful to me because last summer, I worked with Columbia Legal Services providing legal support to immigrant workers who are forming cooperative enterprises in Bellingham, WA. The project was started by Rosalinda Guillen, director a Bellingham nonprofit dedicated to the needs of immigrants and farm workers called Community to Community (C2C). Columbia Legal Services collaborated with C2C to provide much needed legal advice. By the end of the summer, the work developed into a fellowship proposal I submitted to Equal Justice Works to fund a full time position offering legal and technical advice to C2C and farm worker entrepreneurs.
Rosalinda Guillen is a former farm worker and visionary leader. She often speaks in terms of “food justice” and the idea that farm workers must have dignified work growing food that is good for the community. Her ideas are equal parts inspiration and common sense. It’s fun to hear her speak so when I saw that she was part of the Good, Clean, Fair Food panel on October 21st, I made sure to get a ticket.
The Good, Clean, Fair Food panel presented a vision for food production that connects consumers with the source of their food, exposing an industry that for many years has attempted to shield consumers from the troubling aspects of food production.
Erika Lesser of Slow Food USE began the discussion with an acknowledgement that many consumers would buy fair and clean food if given the option to make an informed choice. That sentiment was set against an assessment of farming and food distribution as it currently exists in the United States. The rise of massive factory farm and corporate mono-crop agriculture continues unchecked while the number of family farms dwindles. The work conditions of farm workers have improved in small increments but they remain an underclass of workers performing arduous labor, often with little protection from toxic pesticides and unscrupulous employers.
Faced with these conditions, each panelist is taking steps to build a market for ‘slow food.’ Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community to Community in Bellingham, WA, is supporting farm workers who form cooperative businesses that grow and process food. Rosalinda’s vision for food justice is based on the idea that farm workers can take responsibility for running their own cooperative enterprises that grow and process healthy food. Community to Community is currently supporting a catering cooperative run by two immigrant women and has ambitions to start an organic farming training program for farm workers who wish to become cooperative farm owners.
Rosalinda’s vision for food justice dovetailed with the personal story of another presenter, Adolfo Alvarez. Adolfo is an organic farmer who began his work life picking asparagus. He worked his way up from farm worker to farm owner and now grows organic cherries and apples. He is faced with the struggle to survive in the current recession. Aldolfo relayed stories of apple farmers using their organic apples as cattle feed because packing houses cannot sell them for a profit. Despite the economic downturn, he remains committed to organic growing because he fears the consequences of over-reliance on pesticides in the Yakima Valley and its effects on his children and grandchildren.
Other presenters included Goldie Caughlan of PCC Natural Markets and Teresa Marres from the Food Justice Project in Seattle. Both spoke of their passion for inspiring people to think carefully about where their food comes from.
The underlying message from the panel was clear. The desire for environmentally sound growing practices does not stand in opposition to interests in better working conditions for farm workers. If we hold that dignity for farm workers and healthy food are both necessary goals then we have some exciting and challenging work ahead of us to put clean, healthy and fair food on everyone’s dinner table.
1L Hilary Hammell is blogging
Hilary Hammell came to law school hoping to use her legal education to work on issues of reproductive justice. She has watched the proposed health care bills and legislative debate with particular interest. She was concerned about the amendment that would impose tight restrictions on abortions that could be offered through a proposed government-run insurance plan and through private insurance that is bought using government subsidies. In response to this amendment she co-wrote a blog post entitled: "Dear Mr. Stupak: Do You Trust Women?"
Two Scholars Travel to Peru
2L Lillian Hewko and 1L Hilary Hammell traveled to Arequipa Peru to attend the First Latin American Legal Conference on Reproductive Rights. Lillian Hewko shares her reflections.
By Lillian Hewko, 2L
Attending the First Latin American Legal Conference on Reproductive Rights in Peru allowed me to see how international law intersects with the community level changes that are occurring across Latin America. My initial interest in reproductive rights in Latin America came from community development perspective from work I did as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay South America. As an Urban Development Volunteer in Conception, I worked with the local hospital in implementing a project on sexual education and how to prevent HIV/AIDS and STIs. The project consisted of training youth as leaders in the community to discuss these topics with their peers, thereby raising their self-esteem and building leadership skills. Through this work I was exposed to the lack of information and resources around women’s reproductive health which ultimately not only effects a woman’s reproductive choices, but also her right to education, right to work and her struggle for equality and equal opportunity.
As a 1L I was introduced to Law Students for Reproductive Justice and I realized that I could continue advocating for reproductive access and information from a legal perspective. It was through LSRJ’s activities that I was exposed to the idea that reproductive rights are human rights as defined by international law, which is far ahead of our own legal interpretations in the U.S. surrounding privacy as the pillar of reproductive justice. During my summer 2009 internship at Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization based in New York City, I was exposed even further to the human rights impact of the lack of abortion access in Latin America. As an intern I researched the current and past decriminalization efforts of abortion throughout the region.
At my internship I was familiarized with the cases and legislative efforts which the lawyers and community advocates in attendance at the conference had set into action. Organizations like GIRE discussed first hand their litigation strategy in the Paulina case, which lead to legal abortion in Mexico City. Monica Roa discussed her process with Women’s Link Worldwide to gain public support and successfully challenge and liberalize Columbia’s abortion ban to allow for exceptions. I listened as Silvia Pimental committee member of The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) explained that the lack of access to safe and legal abortion is a form of violence and discrimination against women. Meanwhile protestors against the conference chanted and pounded on drums from outside. The contrast between the noise from outside echoing throughout the building and the conviction behind her statements made me realize how important events such as this are for the dissemination of information on both sides of the debate.
I met law students from all over Latin America, including Chile, where abortion is illegal in all cases and where these students are among few fighting outwardly for access to abortion. Their energy and creativity under such restrictive conditions made me realize how integrated all of us are in the fight for access to reproductive justice. In sum, to research the issues from the US and then be able to travel to Peru, a country where abortion is illegal, and join in a discussion around the movement for decriminalization of abortion, access to sexual education and access to contraceptives in the middle of fall quarter still seems a bit surreal. But the experience has solidified my interest in working in reproductive justice as a way to help end violence and discrimination of women around the world.
Environmental Protection Seminar
Last year Gates Scholar Jeni Krencicki Barcelos teamed with fellow UW law student Jen Marlow to organize and present “Three Degrees: The Law of Climate Change & Human Rights,” an international interdisciplinary conference here at UWLS focused on addressing the human impacts of climate change. Now 3Ls, Jeni and Jen are teaching fellows helping to create an incredible new course offering at UW which continues the interdisciplinary approach to addressing climate change. This winter and spring 2010 the Environmental Protection Seminar will be offered at the law school, the lead law professor will be Professor Greg Hicks.
The goal of the course is to examine a location where climate change is likely to have a deleterious impact on the disadvantaged, and to understand the limitations and strengths of international and domestic legal systems to alleviate these impacts. The students will likely be working with communities in the high Andes region of South America to evaluate the impacts of climate change on water resources and subsistence farming in these communities.
The seminar is essentially an applied research endeavor that will involve faculty from five key disciplines: climate (atmospheric sciences, glaciology, hydrology), law, policy and philosophy. Twenty five graduate students spanning these disciplines will participate in the course. Students will do the research and craft position papers of their analysis of the problems, potential legal and policy responses and the ramifications of the responses. It is the intent to have local officials and civil society groups involved in the course, from beginning to end. Funding permitting, students can anticipate an international travel opportunity to present the seminar's key findings within the target community.
Rebecca Watson 2L Contribution to Southern Poverty Law Center Report
Before coming to law school Rebecca Watson was a paralegal at the Southern Poverty Law Center. At SPLC her work focused on legal advocacy for immigrant populations. She was a researcher on an important report issued by SPLC entitled Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South.
Scholarship Application Procedure: Do You Know a Potential Gates Scholar?
A key component of the Gates Program is our ability to provide full tuition-plus scholarships to five incoming law students each year. These dedicated students make a commitment to practice in a public service law setting for a minimum of five years after graduating.
The deadline for Gates Scholarship applications for the class to begin fall 2009 is January 15 2010. During Candidate Selection Weekend April 2-3, 2010, we will interview 20-25 of the top candidates. If you know any promising law school candidates who desire a public service law career send them our way by referring them to our application page or contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.