Meet Matthew Handley '22: Center for Social Justice Scholar
Each academic year, Seton Hall Law School School’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) selects Student Scholars who seek careers in public interest. The Scholars are afforded opportunities to work with faculty members in areas of interest and career ambition. They receive scholarship support for their service from the Association of Corporate Counsel of New Jersey.
After a nine-year career on active duty in the U.S. Army, Matthew Handley ’22 came to Seton Hall Law School to learn how to make a deeper impact in his community and to develop skills that would allow him to fight for social justice and systemic change, particularly on behalf of his fellow veterans. “One of the ‘Core Values’ that you are taught on your very first day in the Army is ‘Selfless Service.’ This was nothing new to me, since I was taught the same thing by my parents growing up: that when you see someone in need, you do whatever you can to help them.”
Handley hopes to use his legal education to support the veteran community, who often suffer from acute legal issues stemming from combat- or service-connected medical and mental health conditions. “Veterans disproportionately suffer from homelessness, struggle with substance abuse, and interact with the criminal justice system. As a Center for Social Justice Scholar, I plan to organize projects to provide legal services to my fellow veterans.”
Handley graduated from Cedarville University with a BA in Communications in 2009, after which he immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Forward Observer. Handley deployed to Tikrit, Iraq in 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 09-10. While on active duty, he also attended graduate school part-time, and received his MA in International Relations from The University of Oklahoma in 2017.
Over the course of his active duty career, Handley advanced though the ranks of enlisted leadership, ultimately achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant and serving as a platoon sergeant, responsible for the training, mentorship, and supervision of 35 soldiers. “One of my most sobering responsibilities as a Non-Commissioned Officer was standing with my soldiers during disciplinary proceedings and making sentencing recommendations to my Commanding Officer. I witnessed how my professional reputation carried enormous weight, and how my advocacy for a second chance could literally change the course of my soldiers’ lives. Seeing the power of that advocacy is one of the things that made me consider law school.”
In his local community of Phoenixville, PA, Handley serves as the Chairman of the town’s Youth Aid Panel, a restorative justice initiative which gives juveniles who are arrested for their first offense the opportunity to appear before a panel of trained community members. These panels work with the youth and their parents or guardians to craft resolutions which serve as an alternative to criminal sanctions, and if completed, prevent the offense from being placed on the juvenile’s record.
During the spring of his first-year as law student, Handley interned with the Office of the Public Defender in Montgomery County, PA. While there he worked in the Veteran’s Treatment Court and contributed his insight as a veteran in weekly planning meetings with the treatment court judge, attorneys, probation officers, social workers, and VA representatives. This team collaborates to ensure that veterans who interact with the criminal justice system as a result of their service-connected mental health conditions receive treatment, support, and a program of restorative justice. Handley also worked with the Chief Public Defender on improving access to restorative justice for juveniles by expanding the use of Youth Aid Panels in the county.
Handley also volunteered with the ACLU during his first year of law school, and worked as a “bail watcher” in the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, PA. This project involved observing bail hearings and recording detailed data to track racial and socioeconomic disparities in the assessment of bail, and to monitor Philadelphia County’s compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. “I witnessed firsthand how someone’s life could be completely torn apart by being given excessive cash bail that they could not afford. Your fate totally depended on whether the Bail Commissioner felt like taking the time to determine what was fair and what you could afford, or if they merely accepted the amount the prosecutor asked for.” This effort ultimately culminated in the filing of a federal lawsuit against Philadelphia County by the ACLU, challenging their procedures and the large disparities in the assessment of cash bail.
Last summer, Handley was selected to be a Summer Fellow in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. While there, Handley had the opportunity to represent veteran clients who have legal needs resulting from their military service, such as administrative appeals of disability benefits and discharge upgrades, as well as a broad range of federal litigation against government agencies. Handley also worked with the clinic’s institutional clients, who engage in a broad range of advocacy in support of regulatory and legislative reform which seeks to expand veterans’ access to benefits and promote social justice reform in the military services.
At Seton Hall Law, Handley serves as a Senator in the Student Bar Association and is a member of the Student Veterans Association. As a student in the Weekend Division, Handley also plans to assist the Center for Social Justice in developing opportunities for weekend students to participate in clinical opportunities.