Center for Social Justice Recognized Students for Outstanding Work and Commitment
At the annual awards ceremony for graduating students, held on May 24, 2023, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) recognized students for outstanding work and commitment in each of its legal clinics. The CSJ also recognized one team of students overall for their exemplary clinic work and one student overall for their excellence in the service of our clients. Congratulations to the award recipients!
The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Outstanding Clinical Team Award recognized Michael Oros and Jacqueline McDonald for their work in the Equal Justice Clinic supervised by Professor Jenny-Brooke Condon. Michael and Jacqueline helped a client who had been sentenced at 19 years of age to life in prison. The students prepared the client’s application for parole, including compiling evidence of rehabilitation, preparing a letter brief, and preparing the client for his hearing through a mock parole hearing at Southwood State Prison and multiple phone calls. The client was released on May 2, 2023, after serving 30 years in prison. This team also contributed research in advance of new constitutional litigation on behalf of vulnerable workers, drafted sections of a legal guide for incarcerated persons and counseled a client extensively on his claim for early discharge of parole. Professor Condon remarked, “whether engaged in impact litigation, direct service of individual clients, or creating materials to empower pro se individuals, this team brought a depth and range of skill and commitment to a variety of impactful projects.”
The Center for Social Justice Outstanding Advocate Award was granted to Jessica Hajdukiewicz for her work in the Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic, supervised by Professor Kevin Kelly. Working with the Housing Justice Project, Jessica assisted several clients facing eviction. She appeared in court on multiple cases, negotiated settlements, researched complex legal issues, drafted pleadings and legal briefs, and helped clients navigate rental assistance. One notable case Jessica handled occurred over spring break when a client was facing imminent eviction. She filed an emergent application with the trial court, seeking to stop the eviction. The initial application was denied, and Jessica prepared an emergent application to the Appellate Division. This resulted the landlord dismissing the underlying complaint, allowing the client to remain in their home. Additionally, Jessica supported the CSJ by presenting at a meeting with Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin, Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, in support of the CSJ’s Housing Justice Project. Professor Kelly commented, “Jessica is an insightful, diligent, and compassionate advocate who consistently went the extra mile for her clients. Jessica also earned the admiration of her professors and peers with her boundless energy and generous spirit.”
Clinic Awards for Oustanding Advocate in Clinics:
The Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic Outstanding Advocate Award was granted to Emily Ascherl and Micaela Itona. Emily Ascherl was supervised in the Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic by Professor Kevin Kelly. Emily represented a client whose Section 8 federal housing assistance was terminated after the client's estranged husband had falsely accused her of committing fraud. At the initial hearing, the client was unrepresented, and the hearing officer relied on the testimony from the estranged husband to uphold the termination. Emily represented the client in appealing that decision. She drafted a comprehensive complaint, filed the complaint in Superior Court, and had it served upon the defendants. The case raises issues under the Fair Housing Act, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Emily also represented a client in an eviction case in which she wrote a pretrial brief in support of a motion to dismiss. She was prepared to argue at trial that the landlord’s noncooperation with a rental assistance agency prohibited the landlord from seeking eviction for those months. Emily negotiated a settlement on behalf of the client and the eviction complaint was dismissed. She diligently, thoroughly, and effectively prepared her cases.
Micaela Itona was recognized for her exceptional work in the weekend section of the Civil Litigation and Practice Clinic under the supervision of Professor Abdul Rehman Khan. Micaela’s profound impact was shaped by her involvement in researching the emerging field of legal design, implementing a legal design technology project, and spearheading the establishment of the New Jersey Legal Design Lab within the Center for Social Justice. Through this experience, Micaela adeptly applied her legal skills to solve complex problems, infusing imagination, creativity, and empathy into her approach. Her dedication to advancing legal design curriculum in law schools and her contributions to the pioneering work of the New Jersey Legal Design Lab at Seton Hall reflect her commitment to transforming the practice of law.
The Family Law Clinic Outstanding Advocate Award was granted to Erin Edly. Erin, under the supervision of Professor Jessica Miles, provided zealous representation for several clients in different family law cases involving issues of custody, child support, and adoption. She accomplished a great deal for her clients as a result of her ability to work proactively and seamlessly with different partners and supervisors. Professor Jessica commented, “Erin showed compassion with all her clients as well as finesse with complex legal cases… she is committed to a career in family law and will, undoubtedly, do great work in the field.” Erin also worked with Professor Kevin Kelly on family cases. In one custody case, her successful argument in court enabled the client to maintain residential custody. Professor Kevin Kelly said, “In addition to her willingness to put in the hours, Erin demonstrated a high level of maturity and sensitivity. She understood the unique sensitivities and challenges that arise for clients in family law cases and was able to gain trust with clients.”
The Health Justice Clinic Outstanding Advocate Award recognized Nia Kyritsis and Meghan Currie as a team. Nia and Meghan, under the supervision of Professor Rachel Gerson represented a client facing eviction from a rent-controlled apartment. The client had lost his job because of the Covid-19 pandemic and had missed his trial date due to health issues. The students represented him in an emergent application to vacate the default judgment. They made several legal arguments against the eviction and advocated with a non-profit to release additional rental assistance funds that were approved for the client. While the motion was pending, the client received the additional rental assistance that brought him current on his rent. The eviction case was dismissed, and the client remains in his home. Professor Gerson said, “Meghan and Nia approached all of their cases with curiosity and determination and all of their clients with empathy and understanding.”
The Impact Litigation Clinic Outstanding Advocate Award was granted to Michael Antzoulis. Supervised by Professor Jon Romberg, Michael worked with teammates on a pro bono, in forma pauperis case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of a pretrial detainee who had been subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement. He drafted the portions of the brief addressing a particularly legally complex issue, a procedural due process challenge concerning our client’s placement in administrative segregation, subject to horrific conditions, without notice or an opportunity to be heard. Michael developed a novel argument concerning pretrial detainees’ liberty interests under the Fourteenth Amendment itself. He also worked with the other clinic students on an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in a case challenging, on First Amendment grounds, New Jersey’s “slogan statute” in primary elections, the mechanism undergirding the democracy-undermining county line. Michael performed research that uncovered novel aspects of the practical operation of the slogan statute’s restriction on references to the names of New Jersey corporations.
The Immigrants’ Rights/International Human Rights Clinic Outstanding Advocate Award was granted to Alexandra Marek and Maximilian Cali. Their work in the clinic was supervised by Professor Lori Nessel and Professor Amelia Wilson. Alex and Max represented an Afro-Colombian family of three who came to the United States to seek protection from political persecution and race-based discrimination and exclusion. The case was before the Newark Immigration Court where the clients were in removal proceedings; Alex and Max moved quickly to compile evidence, craft legal arguments, secure experts, navigate complicated bureaucratic challenges, and negotiate with the prosecutor for the Department of Homeland Security. They tirelessly and expertly built their case, prepared their clients for testimony, and finally, presented the case in court—ultimately winning asylum for all three family members. Professor Wilson remarked, “As a team, Max and Alex showed exemplary collaboration, dedication, and care. They represent the future of thoughtful, engaged lawyers—and will be a credit to the profession.”
The Equal Justice Clinic Outstanding Advocate Award recognized Samantha Jerabek for her work in the clinic supervised by Professor Jenny-Brooke Condon. Sam spent her semester preparing a compassionate release petition under the First Step Act for a client sentenced to life without parole at the age of 19 for crimes committed during his youth. She skillfully and empathetically uncovered and documented evidence of her client’s childhood trauma to explain how the hallmark features of youth and the impact of trauma on her client’s adolescent development present extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting a sentence reduction. Professor Condon said, “Sam exhibited a range of excellent client-centered lawyering skills from client interviewing, drafting an effective witness affidavit, and marshalling law and evidence to draft a compelling submission.”