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St. John’s Law Students Spend Spring Break Bridging the Justice Gap

Monday, March 13, 2017

During his tenure as Chief Judge of the State of New York, Hon. Jonathan Lippman '13HON called the public’s attention to a wide “justice gap” that leaves millions of low-income New Yorkers and people across the country without the professional help they need to face serious legal challenges. 

Along with leaders in the field of social justice, Judge Lippman called on law schools to act as agents of change through efforts aimed at making legal services and the courts more accessible to all. This call to action echoes the Vincentian mission that has animated St. John’s Law since it opened its doors more than 90 years ago. 

It’s the mission behind the Law School’s Public Interest Center, which directs a range of programs and activities that promote the professional obligation lawyers have to serve those most in need. The center, in turn, gets strong support from students who work tirelessly to help organize its events and initiatives, like the annual Public Interest Auction that raises funds for the Law School’s Public Interest Fellowship Program.

The students are also the driving force behind the annual center-sponsored service trips. This year, the center was able to send students to New Orleans, LA and San Antonio, TX over spring break to assist local public interest organizations.

In New Orleans, the students volunteered with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), the largest civil legal aid organization in Louisiana serving 22 parishes. The St. John’s volunteers worked under supervisors in the organization’s different divisions:

  • Allison Cabibbo '19—Foreclosure Prevention (Housing Division)
  • Me’Dina Cook '17—Housing Division
  • Shannon Dempsey '19—Housing Division
  • Antonia Edwards '19—Medical Unit
  • Alexis Minichini '19—Litigation Division
  • Kaleigh Shea '19—Public Benefits Division 

“I came to St. John’s with a full-tuition Vincentian Scholarship because of my demonstrated dedication to public service and my commitment to serve the public interest in my legal career,” says Me’Dina Cook, who led the New Orleans trip. “I started working with the Public Interest Center as a 1L with this exact trip. Now, after being part of the Public Interest Center for three years, it was a full circle moment to go back to SLLS in my final semester. Helping the New Orleans community fight their chronic housing problem has been immensely fulfilling.”

The Texas group volunteered at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and included:

  • Christina Borges '19
  • Maria Casamassa '18
  • Samantha Chasworth '17
  • Denise Feliciano '18
  • Charlotte Lehman '19
  • Anjelica Mantikas '18
  • Christine Obierika '18
  • Stephanie Tan '18

RAICES promotes justice by providing free and low-cost immigration legal services and education to under-served immigrant children, families, and refugees. The students worked in an immigration detention center, preparing women and their children for their “credible fear” interviews. They also also represented clients in front of immigration judges, and were able to stop the deportation of four mothers and their children.

Anjelica Mantikas, who led the Texas trip, and had this to say about her experience at RAICES: “Working in the detention center was eye-opening and rewarding. Our team helped clients by explaining the asylum law process, listening to their stories, and preparing them for their interviews. I came to St. John’s so that I could help people, and this spring break trip gave me the opportunity to do just that. Because St. John's offers students these kinds of opportunities, we can use our legal skills to give back and better society.”