Seattle University honors Lorena Gonzalez '05 with Community Service Award
February 19, 2014
Nationally recognized civil rights attorney M. Lorena Gonzalez '05 will receive Seattle University's Community Service Award. A partner at Schroeter, Goldmark and Bender (SGB), she has built a successful career representing clients who have been persecuted by those in authority or seriously injured by negligence or misconduct.
Gonzalez's parents came to the United States in the early 1960s as undocumented immigrants. (They became legal permanent residents in the 1970s and in 1996, Lorena's mother became a United States citizen.)
"They did so at great risk for one purpose," Gonzalez said, "to give their yet unborn children the greatest gift of all, the American dream and a chance at greater opportunity. When I give back to my community, it is in their honor."
As a child, she remembers watching the crop duster as it flew overhead the temporary migrant farm labor camp where she lived with her family in the summers. Although the spray was intended for the farmer's cherry orchard, the pesticide drifted onto the families living in the migrant farm labor camp, including her own family. She felt absolutely powerless. At 14, Gonzalez saw a migrant worker beaten at the hands of a local farmer. "I grew up seeing injustices as a migrant farm worker," she said.
As an attorney, she speaks out on behalf of those who have been wronged. The majority of her clients are elderly, women and children who have suffered the indignities of sexual harassment, assault and/or misconduct. In 2012, she successfully settled a highly publicized excessive force and discrimination suit filed against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department. Based upon that ruling, racially charged language used by any officer is now grounds for termination.
"My mom told me once that she listened to an interview of Justice Sonia Sotomayor," Gonzalez recalls. "'A great lawyer is not measured by her case-to-case success,' the justice said. 'She is measured by her commitment to community.' My mom, beaming with pride, told me she knew Justice Sotomayor was talking about me because I'd never forgotten my roots. This short conversation was one of the most poignant in my life, I'll never forget it."
In 2007, Gonzalez co-founded a monthly free legal clinic at El Centro de la Raza. Run by the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington and SGB, the clinic advised more than 500 clients last year regarding immigration, family law, landlord tenant, personal injury, medical malpractice and consumer finance issues.
She serves as president of the Board of OneAmerica, the largest immigrant advocacy organization in Washington State, and is a past president of the Latina/o Bar Association. Also a past president of the Law Alumni Board, Gonzalez has twice been honored by the law school: with the 2013 La Justicia Award from the Latina/o Law Student Association and the 2011 Alumni Service Award.
She was named one of Seattle's most influential people in the November issue of Seattle Magazine. In 2009, she was chosen as one of the seven top lawyers in the country under 40 by the Hispanic Bar Association. She was not only the youngest, but the only law student to be awarded the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington's Outstanding Member of the Year. She recently was named a Marshall Memorial Fellow through a program designed to build transantlantic cooperation.
"I have integrated community service into my life and career because I care deeply about the initiatives I'm involved with," she said. "Each organization I commit to has a mission and a purpose I fundamentally believe in."
President Stephen Sundborg, S.J. and the Seattle University Alumni Association will present the 2014 Alumni Awards Tuesday, April 22, beginning at 5:30 pm in the Campion Ballroom. RSVP here.