Diverse Voices @StJohnsLaw

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St. John’s Law


American Law Students Association

The mission of APALSA is to provide a comprehensive academic, social, and professional support system to St. John’s Law students who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander. We prioritize our members’ professional development by presenting numerous opportunities in the form of internships, scholarships, and networking events, and fostering a deep sense of community through our mentorship program, volunteer work, and annual Lunar New Year reception held each spring.

The mission of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) is to articulate and promote the professional needs and goals of black law students and instill a greater awareness of commitment to the black community. We seek to promote, foster, and encourage the academic well-being of black law students.

The Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA) is committed to Latinx advancement in the legal profession. We strive to connect students with our broad network of Latinx lawyers and alumni, as well as promote diversity, leadership, and academic success. The mission of OUTLaws & Allies is to foster awareness and advocacy for legal issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, to promote a spirit of inclusivity and support among the Law School community, with the goal of identifying common ground and eliminating stigmas associated with the LGBTQ+ community throughout the legal profession.

St. John’s SALSA strives to provide academic, social, and professional support for diverse students, while promoting South Asian culture and values to create an inclusive multicultural Law School community.

To learn more about our student affinity groups and other organizations, programs, and initiatives fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion at St. John's Law, visit stjohns.edu/law/diversity.

FROM KAMILLE DEAN DIRECTOR OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion run deep at St. John’s Law. Our very first class in 1925 had 30 women. The next year, we welcomed our first African American and Latino students. A few years later, St. John’s graduated the first Asian American lawyer in New York. Today, our student body is 32% students of color and majority female. Thanks to generous alumni, there are 17 student scholarships promoting diversity at the Law School. That number is growing every year. Our Ronald H. Brown Scholars Program provides another $2.8M in annual scholarships to support students from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. The Law School’s major investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion has only grown with the addition of a wonderfully diverse group of recent faculty hires who bring a range of perspectives to the classroom and into the field as educators and scholars. And, as of the 2019-2020 academic year, for the first-time ever, our full-time faculty is majority female. I came to St. John’s Law as Director of Diversity and Inclusion two years ago. In that time, I’ve overseen programs and initiatives—including our Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights, its affiliated student-run publication, the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, and its award-winning pipeline initiative, the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students—that foster student success and that help to build a truly representative legal profession. I also work with the Ron Brown Center’s faculty advisors to foster our vibrant Ron Brown Scholars learning community. When our Prep Program students start their summer studies at St. John’s, they receive T-shirts with the signature phrase: The World is Diverse. The Law Should Be, Too. This special collection of stories culled from past issues of our biannual St. John’s Law magazine shares just some of the ways that this Law School and our students, faculty, and alumni are fulfilling the promise behind that call to action. As a woman of color, lawyer, and legal educator, I understand that law schools are uniquely positioned to open doors for people who have faced barriers to achievement historically. A legal education can be transformational, and St. John’s Law is dedicated to being an agent of positive change. Best, Kamille Dean Director of Diversity and Inclusion

OPENING DOORS From the Start St. John’s Changed the Face of Legal Education By Susan Landrum, Ph.D., J.D.


ore than 90 years ago, educators and community leaders began a discussion about creating a new law school in Brooklyn. That conversation sowed the seeds of what eventually became St. John’s University School of Law. The Law School, which held its first classes on September 28, 1925, earned an immediate reputation for its open doors—welcoming men and women of diverse economic, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.

HISTORICAL BACKDROP St. John’s Law took root and grew to prominence during one of the most challenging times in the history of legal education, the legal profession, and the nation. By the 1920s, New York City was the largest city in the United States, and one of the largest metropolises in the world. By the end of that decade, the city’s population had grown to almost seven million. There were many positive aspects to this population growth, but there were negative consequences as well. In the decades preceding the Law School’s founding, immigrants had poured into the United States by the millions, many of them settling in New York City and the surrounding area. Although they arrived from around the world, the majority of these newcomers traced their origins back to southern and eastern Europe. They sought new economic opportunities for themselves and their children—and many realized that education would be the key to achieving their goals. But in the years following World War I, immigrants to the United States faced significant barriers to educational and economic advancement, both nationally and in New York. Xenophobia was on the rise, resulting in severe restrictions on further immigration and caps on enrollment at some colleges and universities. By the 1920s, for example, some law schools had capped Jewish student enrollment at 20 percent. More broadly, the cost of a quality legal education during this era was beyond reach for most immigrants. This situation fueled a demand for more, and more affordable, legal education. Other minority groups faced similar challenges in the midst of seeking new opportunities. During and after World War I, African

Americans moved to New York City by the tens of thousands as part of the Great Migration, searching for better jobs and fewer social restrictions. Over time, some of these migrants from the South sought to further improve themselves through education, including the study of law. The 1920s was an era of change for women as well. Although American society still placed many restrictions on their opportunities, some women challenged these limits. After the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920, American women had the right to vote across the nation for the first time. And with suffrage came more involvement in politics and even more desire to participate in the economic and social fabric of the nation. Like other groups historically excluded from higher education and from the legal profession, women now sought admission to law schools and the practice of law in greater numbers.

SERVING THE TRADITIONALLY DISADVANTAGED St. John’s Law also has roots in the reforms of the Progressive Era. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reformers, believing that experts were the key to economic and social progress, focused on improving professional training and qualifications across many professions, including the legal profession. In the first years of the 20th century, a push came to increase the requirements for lawyers’ training. Before the mid-1920s, most law schools admitted students straight out of high school. By 1925, however, applicants to law schools in New York had to amass two years’ of college coursework to be considered for admission. These increased prerequisites created additional barriers for immigrants and others from traditionally disadvantaged groups because they spurred additional educational costs and made it harder for students to work and attend school at the same time. Understanding this dilemma, St. John’s developed an affordable pre-law program to bridge the gap between high school and law school. This early pipeline initiative allowed a diverse student body to train as lawyers and set the cornerstone of inclusion for St. John’s Law.

OPENING DOORS Once St. John’s made the decision to open a new law school in Brooklyn, plans proceeded quickly. The New York State Board of Regents granted its permission on January 1, 1925 and enrollment began the next month. The response confirmed the pressing need, and St. John’s closed registration in mid-summer when enrollment hit 800 students. As the local newspaper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, explained, St. John’s was “virtually deluged with applications from men and women in all walks of life.” Likewise, St. John’s student newspaper, The Torch, described the Law School’s first class as the most “democratic” in New York City, as it contained “every nationality, creed, cult, age and section of the city.” That September, St. John’s College School of Law—as it was originally known—opened its doors in the Terminal Building at 50 Court Street in Brooklyn. The Law School occupied portions of two floors—humble facilities measuring less than 5,000 square feet in all and divided into office space for faculty and clerical staff, a library, two classrooms, and a smoking room. The first class was organized in three sections, with the first section meeting from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m., the second section meeting from 6 to 8 p.m., and the third section meeting from 8 to 10 p.m. each day.

SUCCESS AND RAPID GROWTH As enrollment continued to climb over the next few years, the Law School’s physical plant grew as well. Two more floors were allocated in the Terminal Building to start, and then the entire operation moved to a five-story building at 54-46 Court Street. Beginning in Fall 1926, St. John’s offered two sections for each of the late afternoon and evening class times, as well as a new morning section. Only a few years later, in September 1929, the Law School relocated to a new building at 96 Schermerhorn Street, just a few blocks from the Terminal Building. By September 1927, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that St. John’s was already believed to be the largest law school in the country. In subsequent years, that feat was confirmed, and the newspaper declared St. John’s not only the largest law school in the United States, but the largest in the world. Filling those founding-era classrooms were many immigrants, firstgeneration Americans, and first-generation college students. The Law School’s inaugural graduating class, which celebrated commencement on June 15, 1928, included nearly 500 graduates, among them 30 women. The following year, 682 students, including 40 women, graduated.

DEDICATED ADMINISTRATORS AND FACULTY A dedicated team of administrators and faculty made St. John’s Law successful from the start. The first dean was George W. Matheson. As a New York Times article covering the Law School’s 50th anniversary in 1975 explained, he was committed to making St. John’s more accessible to New Yorkers who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to law school. “Achieving his dream of teaching law to his students, many of them children of New York’s working poor, had been a thorny one for Dean Matheson. He had to fight what one alumnus called the exclusionary attitudes of high legal circles in the country that wanted to restrict the study of law to the sons of the wealthy.” Leading the Law School for a quarter of a century, Dean Matheson had a reputation for being tough but fair. He recruited quality faculty who emphasized both the theoretical and the practical sides of legal education. He also stressed the importance of ethics and professionalism. In a letter written to the graduating class of 1932, he wrote: “Ever remember that St. John’s expects absolute professional integrity; as you honor yourself, you honor her; as you disgrace yourself, you disgrace her; strive earnestly therefore to be worthy of the trust imposed upon you.” The Law School’s distinguished, nationally-respected faculty included Professor Samuel C. Duberstein, who in those first few years showed his commitment by endowing an annual scholarship for the son or daughter of a member of the local Elks lodge, of which he was a member. In addition to his work as a legal educator, Professor Charles Robert Walsh was an accomplished musician who composed an operetta, Lucille, that was performed at the Brooklyn Little Theater in 1931. And Dorothy C. Most, dean of women at the Law School, was quick to point out that “if a girl has brains, perseverance and the will to do, she will get ahead.” She told her advisees that they could be lawyers, judges, and legal advisors to corporations and other institutions, a progressive message for the time.

DIVERSE STUDENT BODY As important as faculty and administrators were to the Law School’s early success, it was the diverse student body that made up its heart and shaped its identity. These students were scrappy and hard-working, but had little idea of what was in store for them in law school. As a member of the Class of 1931 explained: “Our first assignment came as a rude shock. With little or no preliminary training in the rudimentary principles of law we were flung headlong into offer and acceptance and rights and remedies. We emerged as wiser and sadder students but with a grim determination to go on.”

For the night students—who usually worked all day before coming to class—motivation was the key to their success, as one student recalled: “Every one of these students had to face the diurnal battle for a livelihood. Long, weary hours spent at office desks, salesrooms, mercantile plants—yes, even factory benches, could not stifle the avidity of their evening studies.” Among the Law School’s first graduates were many Jewish students, including rabbis. The Rev. Dr. Louis D. Gross, rabbi of Union Temple, enrolled at St. John’s in 1928 for the “cultural and informational value” of a legal education. Just two years later, rabbis Abraham Dubin ‘30 and Abraham Heller ‘30 graduated from St. John’s Law. With the support of Dean Matheson and Professor Maurice Finkelstein, Jewish law students founded the St. John’s Menorah Society to provide support for its members at the Law School. The Jewish student body at the time included Morris Sandler ‘29, an immigrant from Russia who arrived in the United States in 1914 at the age of seven. As a law student at St. John’s, Sandler met his future wife, Evelyn Lehman ‘29. Lehman, also Jewish, was a firstgeneration American who had grown up on a farm in Connecticut. Among the earliest African-American graduates of the Law School were Charles Lionel Keller ‘29 and William Tucker Garvin ‘31. Keller, who immigrated to the United States from the West Indies in 1921, became a United States citizen in 1934. He worked full time as a probation officer while in law school, and, after graduation, earned an impressive reputation as a civil rights attorney and as a leader within the NAACP. After a major legal battle, Keller became the first African American sworn in as an attorney in Nevada. Garvin, who worked for the U.S. Post Office while attending law school, was also a man of firsts. In 1943, Garvin became the first African American to serve on Local School Board 50. Nine years later, he became the first African American appointed as an Assistant District Attorney in Queens County, a position that he held until his death in 1966. Joining Keller in his quest for racial justice was Elias Schwarzbart ‘29, a member of the defense team for the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama in the 1930s. He later became an assistant attorney general before going into private practice. Throughout his life, Schwarzbart remained committed to the belief that the justice system must be racially equal. There were numerous women in the early graduating classes at St. John’s, who challenged social norms by seeking higher education and a profession. Notably, a number of these women were married and intended to practice law instead of focusing solely on their husband, children, and home as was common for

wives during the 1920s and 1930s. One female member of the first graduating class was Elsa deCaro Napolis ‘28. Napolis, an Italian-American, was already married when she started law school in 1925, and she and her husband, who was also an attorney, practiced law together for more than 50 years. Grace M. Byrne ‘29, who graduated with honors from the Law School, was note and comment editor for the St. John’s Law Review, even as she worked as an economics teacher at a local high school. A very accomplished student, Byrne had previously earned a B.A. from St. Joseph’s College for Women, and an M.A. from Fordham University. Rebecca P. Gold ‘32 also graduated with honors from the Law School, as her husband and three children witnessed her achievements. Described as a “dauntless spirit,” Gold worked full-time as a stenographer in her husband’s law office during the day and attended law school at night. Unlike Elsa deCaro Napolis, who chose to go into practice with her husband, Gold announced the intent to hang up her own shingle, independent from her lawyer husband’s practice. Ella Bernard ‘30 also worked during the day and attended St. John’s Law at night, somehow finishing her legal studies in only two years instead of the typical three. Bernard soon gained a reputation as a criminal defense attorney in New York City, successfully defending two men accused of murder in just her first eight months in practice. As a point of particular achievement, she was the first woman attorney in Brooklyn to ever be assigned to defend someone accused of first degree murder.

CONTRIBUTING TO THE FUTURE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION From the outset, St. John’s response to the turbulent era of the 1920s was to challenge the norms of the day, take a new approach to legal education, and open its doors to a diverse student body that received all the support needed for success in law school and in the profession. By following this path, St. John’s Law created singular opportunities for a new generation of lawyers in New York City, exceptional professionals who used their education at St. John’s to better their communities, to improve the legal profession, and to serve the U.S. system of justice.

Professor Anita Krishnakumar

ANITA S. KRISHNAKUMAR IS INSTALLED AS THE INAUGURAL MARY C. DALY PROFESSOR OF LAW At the installation ceremony, Professor Krishnakumar delivered the Mary C. Daly Lecture on her legal scholarship, which explores a range of legislative process and statutory interpretation issues­ including the congressional budget process, lobbying regulations, and interpretive trends in the U.S. Supreme Court's statutory jurisprudence. In the past five years, she has authored six articles and two book reviews appearing in the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, University of Chicago Law Review, Virginia Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Texas Law Review, George Washington Law Review, and Fordham Law Review.

"Passive Avoidance," 71 Stan. L. Rev. (forthcoming), Professor Krishnakumar's most recent article, illuminates an underappreciated shift in the Roberts Court's approach to the canon of constitutional avoidance, arguing that the Court has adopted a ''passive" form of avoidance, in which it effectively avoids deciding controversial, unresolved constitutional questions-but without invoking the avoidance canon and without openly admitting to rewriting or straining the statute's text.

n December, faculty, administrators, friends, and family gathered for the installation of Professor Anita S. Krishnakumar as the inaugural Mary C. Daly Professor of Law. The new professorship is named for Mary C. Daly, who served as dean of St. John's Law from 2004 until her untimely death in 2008. The first woman to lead the Law School, Dean Daly was also an accomplished scholar of professional responsibility. She was the John V. Brennan Professor of Law and Ethics at St. John's and, before that, was the James H. Quinn Professor of Law at Fordham University. "Mary was a dynamic and impactful dean, and St. John's Law is a better institution because of her insightful leadership," says Dean Michael A. Simons. "I was fortunate to have her as a mentor, and we're all fortunate that she had the foresight to hire Professor Anita Krishnakumar onto our faculty in 2006 . It was very special to have Mary's husband, Tony, and their children, Anthony, Stephen, and Meg, with us as we celebrated this milestone occasion." Professor Krishnakumar brings a wealth of experience and insight as a lawyer, legal scholar, and law school educator to her new role as the Daly Professor. After graduating with distinction from Stanford University and Yale Law School, she clerked for the Hon. Jose A. Cabranes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and was an associate at two major New York City law firms. Her work teaching Legislation and Statutory Interpretation, Administrative Law, Introduction to Law, Trusts and Estates, and a Colloquium on Advanced Topics in Legislation and Statutory Interpretation at St. John's Law has earned Professor Krishnakumar recognition and awards, including the Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award presented by St. John's University. She has served as the Law School's Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship since 2016.

Her earlier work includes "Textualism and Statutory Precedents," 104 Va. L Rev. (2018), which explores textualist jurists' surprising willingness to abandon stare decisis in certain statutory cases. Professor Krishnakumar's empirical work, including "Dueling Canons," 65 Duke L. J. 909 (2016) and "Reconsidering Substantive Canons," 84 U. Chi. L Rev. 825 (2017), offers important data regarding the extent to which the justices on the Roberts Court use the same interpretive tool to support opposing readings of a statute in the same case and the extent to which textualist justices rely on substantive policy canons to fill in gaps left by a purely textual analysis. "Anita is that rare and wonderful legal academic who is an extraordinarily productive and accomplished scholar, a beloved classroom teacher, and a true institutional servant," Dean Simons says. "Her work in legislation and statutory interpretation provides important insights into the interpretive tools used by the Supreme Court, and she has become one of the most astute observers of the statutory jurisprudence of the Roberts Court. She has also played a key role in the development of a rich scholarly culture at St. John's. And, so, it was a particular joy for me to award Anita the Mary C. Daly Professorship." At the ceremony, Professor Krishnakumar prefaced her lecture by thanking her family and colleagues for their support and reflecting on the honor of being the inaugural Daly Professor. "Mary was the dean who hired me, and I admired and respected her tremendously," she said. "In fact, she is the main reason I accepted the offer to come teach at St. John's-I was so impressed with her from the moment I met her. And in the short time that I worked with Mary, my respect for her only increased. She was such a graceful leader-fierce in her convictions and ambitions for the Law School, but also an excellent manager who knew how to make people feel valued-and how to solidly steer the ship. She was also kind-hearted, warm, and could be quite funny when she wanted to. I'm deeply touched and honored to receive a chair named after her. It means more to me than I can adequately express-and I will do my best to live up to the memory of the exceptional person and role model that this chair is named after."

It's always a memorable evening when the St. John's Law community comes together for the annual Diversity & Inclusion Gala. The 2019 celebration last April was no exception. Yessica J. Pinales '19 was one of several student speakers who addressed the 200 celebrants at the scenic Tribeca Rooftop in lower Manhattan. She was just eight years old when her family left everything behind in the Dominican Republic and came to New York in search of the American dream. "We had to start all over again, but my parents showed me the value of education, instilled a strong work ethic, and encouraged me to use my diverse background to influence positive change," she said.

Pinales put those family values into action as she graduated from college, charted a successful career as a bank manager, and then started at St. John's Law. "My experiences as one of the few women of color in a professional setting inspired me to pursue a law degree," she said. "When I first visited St. John's, I knew it would be the ideal place for my legal education. Walking through the hallways and seeing people from various backgrounds, I feel at home. There's a commitment here to diversity and inclusion not as a distant goal, but as an everyday norm." That commitment, Pinales said, was behind the guidance and support the Law School gave her as she served as national chair of the National Latina/a Law Student Association during her 3L year. "I wouldn't have succeeded in this leadership and change agent role without it." The same commitment drives Kamilie Dean's work as Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights at St. John's Law.

"From extensive diversity trainings for our students, shared by our students, alumni, faculty, and administrators." Despite her busy schedule as a faculty, and staff to Law School programming successful Queens business owner who also runs that highlights the contributions of our diverse her own law practice, Cheung remains steadfast community, we're on a mission," Dean shared in her dedication to the Gala and a/ma mater. at the Gala. "That mission is based on the "When you bring together a diverse community Vincentian values that St. John's is built upon, including service and social justice. It's through like St. John's, magic happens." this lens that we provide a safe and welcoming Like Cheung, lkhwan A. Rafeek '08, who is space at the Law School for students to learn and grow in an inclusive environment of innovation of counsel at Otterbourg P.C., finds it very meaningful to support the Gala and diversity and inspiration." and inclusion at St. John's Law more broadly. Taking the Gala podium, Joshua R. Beckham '19 "We live in an increasingly diverse society, and also spotlighted the Law School's mission there is tremendous value in law students engaging with people from various backgrounds of educating students who bring a range of as they prepare to become advocates," he backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to their legal studies. Beckham, who was active in observed. "I was born in Guyana, South America and grew up in Queens, which is one of the the Law School's OUTLaws and Allies student organization, came to St. John's to make a most diverse places in the world, yet there was difference. "I'm from a low-income family in rural still so much I learned about people and their backgrounds when I attended St. John's." Louisiana, and there were many times when we were taken advantage of because we didn't know Rafeek carried this awareness to Otterbourg, a our rights," he said. "I wanted to be that person law firm that has strong ties to St. John's Law who could stand up for my rights, as well as for and a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. the rights of others. When underrepresented people see attorneys they can identify with, it gives In addition to making a generous contribution to the Gala, Otterbourg hosted a recent Alumni them some assurance that they are represented in of Color Networking Event and has supported the law and government. And I think this is, at its the Law School in various other ways. "I've been heart, one of St. John's main goals." fortunate to work at Otterbourg for my entire Gala attendee Maurice Sayeh '12CPS, '17L agrees. legal career," Rafeek said. "The firm's chairman, Richard L. Stehl '92, and other current and former "Although magnificent strides have been made, Otterbourg lawyers model the value of giving diversity and inclusion are goals that still must back to St. John's. With their example, I remain be pursued in and beyond the legal profession committed to diversity initiatives at the Law because no one should feel alone or discouraged School and in the profession." when chasing their dreams," he said. "No matter your color, creed, religion, or background, your voice and dreams matter." Sayeh, who completed Rafeek reaffirmed this commitment recently by establishing a scholarship to benefit the Ronald a federal clerkship and is active in the Law School Alumni Association's Alumni of Color Chapter, H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College recalled his excitement three years ago when he Students, an award-winning pipeline initiative at St. John's Law. "My wife and I were impressed learned that the Law School was planning its first Diversity & Inclusion Gala. with the Prep Program," he shared. "Like so many others, when I was young, I didn't know "It's a very special night," he said of the now­ anyone who could guide me on the path to law annual event. "Alumni, current students, and school. The Prep Program is an excellent resource even prospective students who may be the for college students who seek that guidance. minority in their respective fields or classes can The experience alone can inspire them to push be ambassadors of goodwill. We come together forward, despite any obstacles they may face." to celebrate our accomplishments, experience fellowship, embrace each other, and welcome the Reflecting on the contributions of generous alumni, next generation. The Gala means a lot to me, and I faculty, and staff and on the slate of impressive speakers at the Diversity & Inclusion Gala-which look forward to continuing to support it." also included Shandy Abraham '14CPS, '19L, The special event is also a standout for Sayeh's Wanyu Cho '19, and Jasmine Johnson '21Kamille Dean said: "We're all in a position to classmate, Olivia Cheung '11C, '17L, who served influence a change in shining a light on issues of on the 2019 Gala planning committee. "As an bias, discrimination, and injustice. Our visionary alumna, it's crucial for me to support students by leadership at St. John's Law, with Dean Michael A. connecting and sharing ideas and initiatives that Simons at the helm, is charting a unique course of bring about change," she explained. "Our goal in inclusion. In gathering resources and galvanizing planning the Gala has always been to celebrate the the strength of our diverse alumni, we're lighting a Law School's dynamic and vibrant diversity. Our path of achievement from our campus in Queens efforts culminate in a wonderful, and wonderfully to points throughout the world." unique, event that reflects future-facing values



erome (Trey) Fuller III knows what it’s like to be an outsider. Growing up in New Hampshire, his was one of just two families of color in his small hometown. “I never felt included or understood” he says. “My mother is in the military and, as a family, we place a high value on service to others. So I’ve had a longtime social justice calling. I want to be an agent of change, and to make a difference in the world as a diplomat. But no one in my high school supported my dreams. I felt worthless.”

Despite the obstacles he faced, Fuller held tight to his ambitions and earned a spot in the Ozanam Scholars Program at St. John’s University, which provides a select group of students with an innovative learning experience through academics and research, Vincentian service, and global citizenship. “It’s a wonderful curriculum, and exploring social justice issues that impact people around the world has helped me make the connection between international diplomacy and the law,” Fuller says. With his budding interest in law school, Fuller applied to the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program

for College Students, the awardwinning summer pipeline program of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights at St. John’s Law. For more than a decade, in partnership with colleges and universities across the country, the Ron Brown Prep Program has helped students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented groups—who are often the first in their families to attend college—apply to law school and pursue legal careers. Over three summers, they learn the fundamentals of legal analysis, writing, and advocacy in courses taught by St. John’s faculty and through internships with lawyers and judges in the New

CENTER PIECE York City area. Ron Brown Prep Program students also participate in workshops on professionalism and, as rising seniors, take a comprehensive, customized LSAT course. “The Ron Brown Prep Program is emblematic of the Ron Brown Center’s commitment to support students who have faced real struggles and setbacks, and to foster diversity and inclusion in our profession,” says Professor Elaine M. Chiu, who serves as the Center’s Faculty Director with Professor Rosa Castello ’06. “This is a success story. To date, over 150 Prep Program alumni have attended 55 law schools across the country, including: Harvard, Yale, Boston College, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, George Washington University, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, St. John’s University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Michigan, and Vanderbilt.” With his admission for Summer 2018, Fuller was thrilled to join 16 other young men from around the country as the inaugural class of the all-new DiscoverLaw.org PLUS Program/Ron Brown Prep Program Foundations. This first-of-its-kind offering was made possible by a very generous $300,000 grant from the Law School Admissions Council, through its Diversity Initiatives Grant Programs. “We’ve had a lot of success with our Prep Program I for rising juniors and Prep Program II for rising seniors, but we saw an unmet need for a program designed specifically for male students of color who have finished one year of college,” explains Kamille Dean, who oversees the Ron Brown Prep Program as the Law School’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion and who helped secure the grant. “Our aim with Prep Program Foundations is to address the gender

imbalance in higher education for minority students that can be a very isolating experience.” Fuller and his classmates spent three weeks at St. John’s Law and then interned for five weeks with judges

Jerome Fuller III

Being with a group of men of color, I felt included, supported, and uplifted. These are people who are in the struggle with me. That’s incredibly empowering and unifying, having that common sense of struggle, and celebrating our discoveries and achievements together.

throughout New York City. As part of the on-campus curriculum, they attended inspiring talks by successful attorneys who overcame barriers; learned to analyze and write about cases; participated in weekly ‘peak performance’ sessions facilitated by a psychologist; and read and discussed

Just Mercy, a compelling book on the U.S. justice system by activist lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who heads the Equal Justice Initiative. “It’s important for our Prep Program Foundations students to be exposed to vast opportunities that a career in the law has to offer,” says Dean. “Many of them don’t personally know any attorneys, and they have a limited view of what the legal profession entails. What they really appreciate about our program is that we open their eyes to a range of possibilities. Our students move forward knowing what it takes to become a successful professional. St. John’s Law has invested in the Ron Brown Prep Program for over a decade, and it continues to pay dividends when we welcome students like Trey to our community.” Fuller seized the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. “I’ve always believed that education provides greater understanding,” he says. “But Prep Program Foundations was a life-shifting experience. Being with a group of men of color, I felt included, supported, and uplifted. These are people who are in the struggle with me. That’s incredibly empowering and unifying, having that common sense of struggle, and celebrating our discoveries and achievements together. I can’t wait to continue on this path with the Ron Brown Prep Program next summer.”

➤ To learn more about the Ronald

H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students and opportunities to support it, please visit stjohns.edu/law/rhbcenter or contact Kamille Dean at wolffk@stjohns.edu

Professor Sheldon Evans

t sometimes seems like there are two Kenyas. There is the country that has become a regional economic superpower, outpacing Nigeria and South Africa as a hub for innovative financing and foreign direct investment. That Kenya has luxury apartments, hotels, and shopping malls. But in the shadows of all that prosperity are thousands of makeshift homes whose occupants suffer in poverty. "The slums of Nairobi are known for their 'flying toilets,"' says Lisa Kurbiel, who lives and works in the capital city as Chief of Communications, Advocacy & Partnerships for UNICEF Kenya. "Families are forced to package their waste in plastic bags, which are then flung over their tin rooftops. Imagine what happens when those bags land. Imagine the cholera outbreak when it rains." Kenya's great disparities present a challenge and an opportunity for Kurbiel, as she and her team try to put UNICEF's work on behalf of children at the center of a national dialogue involving high-level advocates and investors. "It's our job to identify key moments linked to priority issues for advocacy," she explains. "For example, in the wake of a recent polio outbreak, we launched a national campaign to

spotlight the safety and efficacy of routine vaccinations." Kurbiel recognizes that her work is a balancing act of sorts between responding to the urgent needs of children in a developing nation and engaging international stakeholders who see Kenya as key to their eight­ percent growth margin. It's a task that she is eager to take on and well­ equipped to manage. For over 20 years, Kurbiel has worked on human rights policies, legislative reform, programming strategies, and advocacy campaigns within the UN system. In that time, she has led initiatives to combat sexual abuse and exploitation, human trafficking, and child labor around the world, and has advised governments on their long-term legislative, policy, and development strategies. Most recently, she worked as Chief of the Social Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit at UNICEF Somalia. Kurbiel traces her career in international humanitarian service to her final year at St. John's Law, when she interned with the UN's former Centre for Transnational Corporations. "I was tremendously affected by the imbalance of power I witnessed as countries attempted to negotiate with multinationals over natural resources,"

she says. "Governments that had tremendous resources but no legal representation signed deals detrimental to their interests. It was so clearly unfair that I felt it was important to try and help. I joined the UN full time after passing the bar exam." As she advocates for Africa's children, Kurbiel draws on the legal training she received at St. John's. "My law degree positions me well to handle a range of issues," she says. "A strong advocate means determining which evidence to present in a particular negotiation at the opportune time. In Somalia, there was an issue of price gouging during the most recent drought. I proposed language for a presidential decree, based on U.S. and European examples, and presented text for national legislation. I was proud to be a part of something so directly linked to saving lives in a humanitarian emergency." In Kenya, Kurbiel also taps her legal skills and experience to build partnerships between UNICEF and private entities. "We see doing good for children as good business, and look for ways to co-create partnerships that help corporate agendas while moving UNICEF's agenda forward," she shares. "At the global level, our partners range from IKEA to Phillips to Proctor and Gamble. At the national level, our

challenge is to access local corporate leaders, like the tele mobile operator Safaricom. Recently, I've been working with DLA Piper, UNICEF's global pro bona law firm, as we try to set up an investment fund for donors who want to focus their support on youth employment." Throughout her career, Kurbiel has maintained close ties to alma mater. While based in New York, she initiated an externship program at the UN for St. John's Law students and, later, she hosted two student interns in Mozambique. "It was fabulous for me," says Kurbiel, "and it gave the students a chance to see the day­ to-day realities of working in service of children in one of the poorest countries in the world. UNICEF's work around the globe aligns closely with St. John's Vincentian mission. It's enormously fulfilling to use your law degree to help poor, vulnerable, and marginalized children who don't have a voice and desperately need us to advocate for them."

► If you would like to

learn more about corporate partnership opportunities with, or ways to support, UNICEF Kenya, please contact Lisa at



JOSE PEREZ '82CBA, '85L Advocates For The Nation's Latinx Community If you trace the U.S.-Mexico border to the southern tip of Texas, you'll find Brownsville, a city of about 183,000 people, most of whom identify as Hispanic or Latino. It was a fitting location for LatinoJustice PRLDEF's (LatinoJustice) 5th Annual Latinx Criminal Justice Convening, which brought local and national organizations together over two days this past summer for conversations about Latinos in the criminal justice and immigration systems across the United States. Jose Perez has been LatinoJustice's Deputy General Counsel for a decade. "Since launching in 1972 as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, our organization has been one of the foremost national nonprofits working to advance, promote, and protect the legal rights of the Latinx community," he says. "We're active in various federal, state, and local criminal justice reform efforts on issues ranging from mass incarceration, to the criminalization of immigrants, to supporting marijuana decriminalization and the closing of Rikers Island."

later, I'm still working with and supervising law students as they conduct Street Law's education workshops and Know Your Rights trainings throughout New York City."

As the organization's second-in-command, Perez supports the vital work of LatinoJustice in diverse ways. He oversees its legal division and serves as litigation director. He also assists with pre-law pipeline programming, advocacy campaigns, and funding efforts. "I wear different hats, but I'm particularly proud of the many legal interns I've recruited and hired over the past decade," he says. "It's wonderful to see them graduate, become practicing attorneys, and return to us as mentors, advisory board members, and collaborators on pro bona matters."

As he supports the mission of LatinoJustice, Perez sees great opportunity ahead. In 2017, the organization received a major grant from Google to fund its criminal justice reform efforts. "That critical funding kickstarted our Reenvision Justicia program," Perez says. "It's taking on the hard, but important, task of expanding the black-white binary focus on criminal justice issues to include the brown, i.e. Latinx, experience and perspective."

Perez's leadership at LatinoJustice follows a long public interest career that started just after his graduation from St. John's Law and includes turns as a New York City public defender, as a prosecutor at the city and state levels, and as a law school clinical supervisor teaching litigation skills. But even before he earned his J.D., Perez was acting on his deep commitment to serving the greater good by empowering Latinos and other underrepresented and marginalized communities.

Recently, LatinoJustice conducted the first-ever national poll on Latinx perspectives on criminal justice issues. The organization's aim for 2020 is to address the Latinx criminal justice racial data gap. "There's no reliable data on how many Latinos are arrested each year, or how many are in prison, on probation, or on parole," Perez shares. "That's a huge problem for the Latinx community, and the entire criminal justice system, that we want to tackle by drafting and implementing model state legislation."

"When I was a 1 L, I joined the Black Law Student Association, which was known as BLSA, and helped push the organization to recognize its Latinx members by changing its name to BALLSA," he explains. "I also worked with the administration to expand recruitment and admission of students of color to the Law School, and created the Spanish Street Law Program, which continues its work today as Street Law en Espanol. Some 35 years

Perez also sees great opportunity ahead for those entering the legal profession. "There's an urgent need for socially conscious lawyers to stand up for those who are targeted by unjust and discriminatory policies and to give them a voice," he says. "We're a privileged group, and we can and should use that privilege for the betterment of all, but especially to uplift the poor and disenfranchised."

AFAF NASHER ’97SVC, ’05L ADVOCATES FOR NEW YORK’S MUSLIM COMMUNITY No one was texting under the table. There were no drooping eyelids, or gazes out windows. The young women and men from St. John’s Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students listened with rapt attention recently, as civil rights activist Afaf Nasher recounted her path to her current work as Executive Director for the New York Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY). It was a journey of faith and determination. “I was born in Yemen, a small and poor country on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula,” Nasher says. “Specifically, I was born at my grandmother’s neighbor’s house, as giving birth at a hospital was rare in my mom’s generation. I immigrated to New York City with my family when I was an infant, and we settled in Queens, where I’ve lived ever since.” Nasher, who is one of seven children, loved school. But her aspirations to higher education were often met with doubt and disapproval from her traditional Yemeni American community. Although she was only 16 when she got married, she became the first female in her family to graduate high school and college. By the time she entered St. John’s Law, she had two young daughters. “A lot of people have shared with me that someone they care about, or even an acquaintance, has told them that they’ll never make it to law school, or through law school, or become a lawyer,” Nasher says. “People I care about told me the same thing—several times.” Despite the naysayers, she was undeterred. She had a long-standing dream to fulfill. “My intention to attend law school surfaced as a young teenager, and was cemented by the time I was 14,” says Nasher. “It initially stemmed from a very proud fascination with our country’s ideals of equality and justice. That fascination became an urgent calling after the tragedy of 9/11. While Muslim Americans were also in mourning at the devastation, we faced immediate backlash, and we were grossly unprepared for it. So I felt required to do whatever I could to defend our nation’s stated commitment to ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’” At St. John’s, Nasher’s classroom experience and hands-on learning in the clinical program solidified her commitment to helping victims of injustice. “I am Muslim, and living one’s faith conscientiously through everyday actions, including those of charity and service to others, was and remains very important to me,” she shares.

After starting her legal career as a commercial litigator, Nasher took a professional hiatus to care for her newborn daughter. “As much as I appreciate Sesame Street, I grew restless,” she says. “I prayed that God would give me an opportunity to utilize myself productively in a way that pleases Him. Soon after, opportunities to do charitable work presented themselves. Among them was a random meeting my husband had with a man who, unbeknownst to us, was on CAIR-NY’s Board of Directors. He invited us for dinner and, by the end of the evening, asked me if I wanted to join the Board. Within two years of this destined meeting with a stranger, I was accepted as a CAIR-NY Board member, then asked to become Board President, and finally invited to transition into the full-time Executive Director role.” As one of the busiest chapters of America’s premier Muslim civil rights group, CAIR-NY defends, represents, and educates nearly one million Muslims in the New York area. “We empower the Muslim community by building coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding, and by encouraging participation in political and social activism,” Nasher explains. “We also advocate on behalf of Muslims and others who have experienced discrimination, harassment, or hate crimes. By upholding our country’s constitution and founding values, we’re supporting the rights of all Americans.” Nasher returns to St. John’s Law regularly to share her experience as a civil rights advocate and activist. “Coming back to the Law School gives me an opportunity to learn from, and be inspired by, our future leaders,” she says. “Interacting with students, faculty, and administrators renews my hope for a better tomorrow, and so the benefit is truly mine.” Those who have heard Nasher speak at St. John’s say the benefit is mutual, and appreciate the power of her message. “Every living human being has some responsibility to better the plight of humanity,” Nasher observes, “and lawyers are particularly charged with shaping, promoting, and demanding laws which further the justice that intolerance seeks to destroy. Each and every one of us should heed that call.”

³ Please visit cair-ny.org to learn more about the New York

Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations and how you can help to support its work.


Ghanaian Judges Put Their St. John’s LL.M. Degree to Work in a Young Democracy As the white steam rose and engulfed his car’s overheated engine, Hon. Daniel D. Angiolillo ‘77 stood at the side of the road that was taking him and his travel companions from one remote village in Ghana, West Africa to another, wondering what to do. Just then, from across a field hundreds of yards away, a local villager approached with a jug of water, to lend a helping hand. “The Good Samaritan is not uncommon in Ghana,” Judge Angiolillo says, reflecting on his roadside encounter and his many other experiences with the country’s “welcoming, gracious, kind, respectful, and cheerful” people during a Summer 2012 visit. Judge Angiolillo was in Ghana at the time with a group of alumni, professors, and students from St. John’s Law and Fordham Law to conduct mediation trainings at the Marian Conflict Resolution Center in Sunyani, the capital city of the country’s Brong-Ahafo region. He also traveled to Kumasi, in southern Ghana, with St. John’s Adjunct Professor Dennis E.A. Lynch, to instruct Ghanaian judges on judicial decision making. Lynch started the non-profit Giving to Ghana Foundation, which coordinated the volunteer effort at the invitation of then Chief Justice Georgina Wood of the Supreme Court of Ghana. “I was honored to co-develop the mediation training program in Ghana,” says Professor Elayne E. Greenberg, assistant dean for dispute resolution programs, professor of legal practice, and director of the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution at St. John’s Law. “The Ghana ADR Act had just been enacted, and mediation and arbitration, the tribal community’s customary dispute resolution methods, were being formalized in the country’s legal system.” The trainings, which qualified participants to serve as court-connected mediators, were hallmarks of a wider, ongoing effort to support the judiciary of this diverse nation of 29 million people situated along the Gulf of Guinea. Ghana is considered one of the continent’s success stories for navigating its way from colonialism to independence, and from periods of military rule and political uncertainty to longtime stability as a multi-party democracy with a free-market economy. “As we collaborated on the mediation trainings,” Professor Greenberg explains, “we identified another ripe opportunity to advance Ghana’s justice system by bringing its judges to St. John’s to continue their legal education. At the same time, our students would learn from the judges about the value and challenges of enforcing the rule of law in an emerging democracy.” Soon after, the first Ghanaian judge enrolled in the Law School’s LL.M. program which, to date, has welcomed eight more judges from Ghana. “Our Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) LL.M. program trains foreign attorneys for success in the rapidly expanding cross-border practice of law,” says Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies Sarah Jean Kelly. “So it’s a very good fit for the Ghanaian judges. TLP students test the knowledge, vocabulary, analytical, and communication skills they gain here in weekly in-class exercises that touch on a broad range of subjects. They also exercise negotiation, presentation, and delegation skills, all while gaining proficiency in the language of lawyering.”

From Left: Jonathan Avogo ‘17LL.M., Arit Nsemoh ‘17LL.M., Abdul-Razak Musah ‘18LL.M., and Agnes Opoku-Barnieh ‘18LL.M.

JONATHAN AVOGO, a magistrate judge in Ghana, was honored when Chief Justice Wood nominated him to study at St. John’s. “The TLP program fulfilled my aspirations of exposure to the legal systems of other countries,” he says, adding, “I met the legal world at St John’s.” Although leaving his wife and children behind in Ghana was difficult, Avogo carried out his “mission” of acquainting himself with the U.S. legal system. “Each day came with the new discoveries of auditing courses or attending court sessions in nearby courthouses,” he shares. Now that he is back on the bench in Ghana, Avogo’s understanding of international law is evident to the lawyers who appear before him. “They can tell that I have had international exposure because I decide interlocutory matters with speed and precision,” he says. Like her LL.M. classmate and fellow magistrate judge Avogo, ARIT NSEMOH saw the opportunity to come to St. John’s as well worth any personal sacrifice. “It was the longest time I spent away from home,” she shares. With the support of the TLP program’s faculty and staff, Nsemoh thrived, enjoying the “practical and diverse approach to teaching law,” roleplay exercises in class, field trips, and kinship. “I consider two of my St. John’s friends as my sisters now,” she says. Nsemoh and Avogo found an able mentor in Judge Angiolillo, who took them to observe oral arguments at the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate

law, tort law, criminal law, family our justice system,” she observes. Division, Second Department and law, juvenile justice law, and a “Judges are the only people introduced them to the court’s host of others,” she says. “I enjoy who can speak the truth to the then presiding justice Hon. Randall the content of the TLP program. executive and the legislature. T. Eng ‘72, ‘16HON. They also It is relevant to contemporary met Hon. Alan D. Scheinkman ‘72, That is our greatest asset.” legal practice. The professors the Appellate Division, Second challenge students to be creative Department’s new presiding justice, ABDUL-RAZAK MUSAH brings thinkers and problem solvers, and an equally clear vision of the role who was on the bench in the New the diversity of the class helps of judges in his home country to York State Supreme Court’s Ninth his LL.M. studies at St. John’s Law. me connect with students from Judicial District at the time. Justice different cultural backgrounds and Scheinkman was very giving of his “For a developing country like Ghana to thrive, its judiciary needs legal systems.” time, describing the commercial to be strengthened through strict division and answering questions Opoku-Barnieh, whose husband adherence to the rule of law,” he about his court’s proceedings. and young children stayed in says. “This will positively impact Ghana, sees her LL.M. degree as the political, social, and economic Reversing roles from mentees to a key to achieving her goals of development of the country. To mentors, Nsemoh and Avogo this end, having worked in various becoming a Supreme Court judge welcomed, and offered advice to, in Ghana and, then, a judge at capacities in the Judicial Service, St. John’s incoming J.D. and LL.M. the International Court of Justice, I feel well placed to serve in my students. “It was an extraordinary the principal judicial organ of the current capacity as a judge.” opportunity that gave our newest United Nations. This semester, she students a chance to learn about has an externship with Hon. Lillian As he builds his legal skills and the global nature of legal practice,” Wan in Kings County Family Court, experience in the TLP program, Dean Kelly says. “Not only were a position that Judge Angiolillo Musah looks forward to engaging they impressed that they would be helped her secure after learning them from the bench and studying with judges from Ghana, of her interest in family law. elsewhere. “Ghana being the they also gained insight into how gateway to Africa, and the world judges think. When some of the Wherever her sacrifice, hard becoming a global village, there new J.D. students shared how work, and determination take her, are a lot of cases being brought to nervous they were about the first Opoku-Barnieh is sure that she will our courts that are international day of class, Arit explained how use her St. John’s legal education in character,” he notes. “Pursuing she approaches working with new in the administration of justice the program will expose me lawyers. Her approach, she said, is and to promote and protect the very similar to our faculty’s approach to, and equip me to work with, rights of the people in Ghana and diverse cultures and the diverse to teaching. The J.D. students were throughout the world. rules applicable to international grateful for her guidance.” law and legal practice.” “St. John’s has forged a unique With her return to her work in partnership with the Ghanaian While Musah focuses on the Ghana, Nsemoh sees that she judiciary,” Dean Kelly says. “We intersection of international law gained a “different perspective look forward to welcoming more and justice in Ghana, his classmate and awareness in life” at of the country’s judges to our AGNES OPOKU-BARNIEH St. John’s, as well as a “broader TLP program, and to continuing appreciates the wide exposure understanding of law.” She to support our students and to different subject areas that passes this knowledge on to her alumni as they bring a truly global the TLP curriculum affords. “As colleagues, and uses it to better outlook to their transformational a magistrate judge, I determine serve the judiciary as a whole. work in Ghana.” cases in different areas of law “Law itself moves very slowly, and ranging from contract law, land it is hard to bring radical change in

OVERCOMING IMPOSSIBLE ODDS Jamel Oeser-Sweat ’01 Finds His Calling in the Law Jamel Oeser-Sweat describes his 10-year-old self as “a homeless fugitive.” Plagued by mental illness, his mother evaded child welfare workers by taking him and his brothers from their home and into the shelter system. They ended up in a midtown Manhattan welfare hotel that, Oeser-Sweat says, “warehoused some of the worst types of people that 1980’s New York City had to offer.” The family eventually moved to public housing, but when his mother’s health problems recurred, Oeser-Sweat was uprooted again and placed in a group home. “I was in kiddie prison,” he recalls. Life took an unexpected turn for the better when the teenage Oeser-Sweat enrolled in a biotechnology class at Mt. Sinai Hospital. He was introduced to Dr. Edward J. Bottone, an infectious disease specialist, who took Oeser-Sweat under his wing and into the lab to conduct research in microbiology. “Dr. Bottone saw a lot of himself in me,” says Oeser-Sweat. “I spent summers and my school semesters working with him, and I was fortunate to be on a team that discovered a new route of disease transmission through loofah sponges.”

“There’s a credibility and sense of

trust that comes from overcoming impossible odds. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had that experience.”

Oeser-Sweat’s research earned him a 10th place finish as a finalist in the prestigious Westinghouse Science Talent Search (now the Regeneron Science Talent Search). His story of triumph over adversity made him a media darling, and he found himself on the front page of the New York Times and featured in television news shows. “One day I was invisible, and the next I was sneaking into school to avoid cameras,” Oeser-Sweat shares. “It was very strange and overwhelming.” While developing as a scientist, Oeser-Sweat also nurtured an interest in the law. In his senior year of high school, he won the New York State Bar Association’s moot court competition with the highest score in the state. And he continued to study law as an undergraduate at NYU, which he attended on a full scholarship. “I loved my politics classes,” says Oeser-Sweat. “I also loved my biology classes. But I really wanted to make a change in the world. I had no idea what that meant yet, but I knew law school was the place I was going to make it happen.” St. John’s Law was a natural fit for Oeser-Sweat. “Of all of the law schools I got into, it was the only place I felt at home,” he says. “And the decision to go there was one of the most important

decisions of my life.” In addition to being active in the Student Bar Association and in the Black Law Student Association, during law school Oeser-Sweat took the patent bar and co-authored a book on DNA and litigation that includes a foreword by Dr. James D. Watson, the famed co-discoverer of the double helix. “My St. John’s Law classmates and professors were very supportive throughout,” says Oeser-Sweat. When he graduated from St. John’s, Oeser Sweat worked in private law firms before going out on his own. His practice focuses on criminal casework, civil litigation, small business and intellectual property matters, and matrimonial law. He also mentors young attorneys and gives back to his community through pro bono service. Reflecting on how his past informs his present vocation as a lawyer, Oeser-Sweat shares: “Being homeless and poor taught me to appreciate the simple things. I’m often surprised when people think of it as a bad experience. It made me strong, and it happened early enough that I was able to get the benefits of valuable lessons about life and people. It also gives me a unique reason for people to empathize with me. They know I am of the people. That’s a real strength. There’s a credibility and sense of trust that comes from overcoming impossible odds. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had that experience.”


Heather Butts ’97 Working at the Forefront of Public Health and the Law


eather Butts wears many hats, and that suits her just fine. She devotes her time as an adjunct professor of Health Law and Bioethics at St. John’s Law; as a lecturer and student adviser at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; as the co-founder of the college readiness nonprofit H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths, Inc.; as a twice-published author; and as the non-identical member of a set of triplets. “I’m a big proponent of pursuing dreams relentlessly,” she says. “From my parents and sisters to professors, friends, and colleagues, I’ve been very fortunate to have people in my life who have supported me and helped me reach my goals—even when I’ve needed a little prodding.” As a senior at Princeton University, Butts didn’t know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “I thought I’d just hang out for a while,” she says, “but my parents wisely gave me two options: get a job or go to graduate school.” The Queens native got the message, applied to St. John’s Law, and never looked back. “I don’t know where I’d be without my legal education,” she shares. “At St. John’s, I learned to challenge my beliefs and to consider situations from all angles. At the same time, I became interested in global issues that affect people’s health outcomes. I wanted to be part of figuring out solutions to those problems. Professor Peggy Turano, my Law School mentor, encouraged me to look at public health schools, and I applied and was accepted to Harvard.”

After getting a master’s degree in public health, Butts worked for the government for two years before taking a job as an administrator at Columbia University Medical Center. She then earned a master’s degree in education at Columbia. “All my education and experience finally came together,” she says. “I knew I wanted to teach public health ethics and law, and to disseminate public health to young people in a meaningful way. I reached out to Professor Turano, who was the Law School’s associate academic dean at the time, and it turned out she was looking for someone to teach a basic Health Law class.” In her courses at St. John’s Law, Butts covers current legal trends in health care, public health, and end of life, among other topics. “It’s an exciting time to go into health law,” she says, referring to current health care reform attempts, shifts in the health care ethical landscape, and certain public health law changes. “And St. John’s is a great place to teach students about this vital practice area. There is a social justice component to the Law School’s Vincentian mission that’s squarely in line with much of what health care law stands for.” Working for the betterment of others is the cornerstone of Butts’s professional pursuits and career outlook. “If we look at violence as a health care issue, education as a health care issue, natural disasters as a health care issue, and poverty as a health care issue, then we can see how health care laws, policies, and organizations can have a far-reaching, positive impact on individuals, on communities, and on the world,” she says. “It’s very gratifying for me to be a part of it all.”

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