Eight third-year students at The University of Texas School of Law have been honored by the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law with Graduating Student Awards.
This annual award recognizes graduating students for their extraordinary commitment during law school to using the law to serve others. The faculty selection committee considered the applicants’ work in the public interest, pro bono, government, legislative, and other nonprofit sectors, as well as participation in law school clinical courses, pro bono projects, and student groups. At least one award specifically recognizes commitment to pro bono activities and at least one award specifically recognizes commitment to government service, in addition to other service. Dean Ward Farnsworth and Eden Harrington, the director of the Justice Center, presented the recipients April 30 at the Law School’s annual Ice Cream Social/Celebration of Service.
The class of 2019 Graduating Student Award winners are:
Marissa Balonon-Rosen has been a champion of social justice activities at the law school and a tireless community builder. She interned with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans; Open Door Legal in San Francisco; and the Alaska Public Defender Agency in Ketchikan, Alaska. She participated in the Civil Rights Clinic, Criminal Defense Clinic, and Housing Clinic, and volunteered for innumerable pro bono projects.
Kara Blomquist has shown extraordinary leadership in developing immigration-related pro bono opportunities. She volunteered at the Karnes Family Detention Center as a 1L. Later, as a Mithoff Pro Bono Scholar, she empowered other students to do the same. She pursued her interest in immigration law in a range of settings – the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Office of General Counsel; The Bronx Defenders in New York; and the Capital Area Private Defender Service in Austin. She participated in the Immigration Clinic and the Criminal Defense Clinic, and served as a Teaching Quizmaster and as associate editor of the Texas Law Review.
Josh Brody participated in a wide range of pro bono activities starting as a 1L. Later he helped lead the winter break pro bono trip, and served as a Mithoff Pro Bono Scholar as a 3L. He interned with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, and the King County Department of Public Defense in Seattle, and participated in the Immigration Clinic and the Criminal Defense Clinic. He served as a tireless resource and mentor to other students. One nomination noted his willingness to help whenever asked, to step in to support clients when last minute needs arose, and to provide technical advice or editing assistance.
Kiah Debolt participated in a broad range of pro bono activities, including various Include projects, Youth Court, the Expunction Project, and a Texas Appleseed School to Prison Pipeline Project. Indeed, notwithstanding incredible personal challenges faced throughout law school, her outstanding commitment to service meant that she still managed to complete hundreds of hours of pro bono service. She interned with Disability Rights Texas; Texas RioGrande Legal Aid; and Texas Appleseed’s Natural Disaster Recovery and Fair Housing Project. (Special Recognition for Pro Bono Service)
Haley Farrell participated in the Capital Punishment Clinic, the Criminal Defense Clinic, and the Immigration Clinic. She interned with the District of Columbia Public Defender Service; the Broome County Public Defender Office in Binghamton, New York; Brooklyn Defender Services; and the Capital Area Private Defender Service in Austin. She was a Mithoff Pro Bono Scholar, leading the drivers license reclamation project in its second year and helping to increase the numbers of clients and communities served. As a Texas Law Fellowships board member, she organized the last two Excellence in Public Interest Awards receptions.
Laura Mahler interned with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento; the Orleans Public Defenders in New Orleans; and Legal Services for Students in Austin. She participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and worked as a Mithoff Pro Bono Scholar on the TABC Expunction Program. She served as president of the Public Interest Law Association and helped found the Indigent Defense Group at Texas Law. In the words of one supervisor, Mahler “brings endless energy to her clients, other students, and looking at the big picture issues associated with people charged with crimes.” (Special Recognition for Government Service)
Leah Rodriguez has been laser-focused on equipping herself to be a fearless immigration lawyer. She volunteered for the Karnes Pro Bono Project as a 1L, worked on asylum cases on the winter break trip, and then interned with RAICES in Austin. As a 2L, she participated in the Immigration Clinic and the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, and then interned with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid with the Immigration Team in Austin. Outside of law school, she has been involved in immigration advocacy through Grassroots Leadership and has studied K’iche’, a Maya language of Guatemala.
Seti Tesefay participated in pro bono projects as a 1L and, in her 2L year, as a Mithoff Pro Bono Scholar, she restarted the Street Law Program and helped lead expunction clinics. She participated in the Capital Punishment Clinic and the Criminal Defense Clinic, and interned with the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho in Boise. She has also provided leadership to the greater law school community through her work as the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society’s Community Service Chair. One of the highlights of her work with TMLS was the inauguration of a pre-orientation event for diverse incoming first-year law students.