Law school names first Leadership for Justice Fellow
A new lawyer committed to improving access to the court system for people with limited English skills and Deaf and hard of hearing individuals was named the first Leadership for Justice Fellow from Seattle University School of Law.
Kristi Cruz, who graduated in December 2008 and recently passed the Bar Exam, will work with Northwest Justice Project to begin work she started as a student with the Washington State Coalition for Language Access. Her project will include training, litigation and creation of policies and procedures to increase awareness of and compliance with the legal requirement to provide access to services to Limited-English Proficient and Deaf and hard of hearing persons in Washington State.
Cruz has been an American Sign Language interpreter for 17 years, including interpreting in courtrooms, where she saw the challenges - and sometimes devastating results - that Deaf people experienced because of communication and systemic barriers present in the legal system.
"Feeling voiceless as an interpreter to address those barriers, I decided to go to law school," Cruz said. "I am absolutely honored to have been selected as the Seattle University Leadership for Justice Fellow, and I'm excited to begin working on this project that allows me to combine my experience and commitment to language access with my law degree."
Seattle University School of Law is the only law school in the state to offer a post-graduate fellowship. It provides a salary of $40,000 for one year to a Seattle University School of Law graduate to work with a host organization on a specific social justice project.
In addition to her work with WASCLA, Cruz externed for the Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral Line's domestic violence unit and volunteered with the ATJI's Language Resource Project.
"Kristi has a breadth of knowledge and experience working with leaders in the language access community in Washington," said Monika Batra Kashyap, Associate Director of the Access to Justice Institute that oversees the fellowship program. "Both before and during law school, Kristi has been involved in language access work, and it is clear that she has the leadership skills to thrive in this arena as an attorney."
The selection committee reviewed several outstanding applications. Committee members, including those who have been involved in the equal justice community in Washington for many years, agreed there has always been a great need for language access needs to be addressed by the courts and state agencies.
The Leadership for Justice fellowship demonstrates in a tangible way the School of Law's commitment to educating outstanding lawyers who are leaders for a more just and humane world.
"Especially in these trouble economic times, it's imperative that we do all we can to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are met," Dean Kellye Testy said. "The School of Law is proud to play a role in making that happen."
Several 2009 graduates have received fellowships for public interest work, including:
Riddhi Mukhopadhyay received a fellowship from the Berkeley Law Foundation for work to be done at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. She will work with detainees at the Northwest Detention Center, specifically representing detainees with psychiatric and mental disabilities and working toward policy reform at a national level on how detainees with mental illness are treated within the detention centers.
Brian Rowe was selected for a Google Public Policy Fellowship to work at Public Knowledge in Washington D.C. in summer 2009. The fellowship will give him first-hand experience working with legislators and activists on cutting-edge technology and access issues.
Persis Yu received the two-year Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship, awarded to a talented, committed law school graduate at the beginning of her or his career in the area of poverty law. She will pursue litigation and advocacy work to address inaccuracies, misuse and bias in the credit reporting system. She will work on consumer protection cases, develop a clinic to address fair credit reporting issues and pursue impact litigation and legislation.