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Law School’s Public Interest Center Thrives Under New Leadership

2017 Public Interest Auction Student Organizers and Volunteeers
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

With the start of the 2016-17 academic year, Professors Ann L. Goldweber and Gina M. Calabrese assumed the leadership of the Public Interest Center at St. John’s Law.

It’s a natural fit for the two. Professor Goldweber is the longtime director of the Law School’s clinical legal education program, which embodies and animates St. Vincent de Paul’s compassion for the poor and zeal for service. She is also the director of the Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, which provides free legal representation to low-income seniors in foreclosure, consumer debt, and home improvement contractor fraud cases. Professor Calabrese has served as associate director of the Clinic for over 15 years, and has long been active in law reform initiatives relating to consumer debt and court processes. Both professors regularly collaborate with numerous New York City public interest providers.

Guided by Professors Goldweber and Calabrese, the Public Interest Center will continue to provide St. John’s Law students and alumni with opportunities to help bridge the justice gap and assist the underserved in New York City and beyond.

This year alone, it increased the profile of public interest at the Law School by sponsoring programs on timely justice issues. During October’s National Celebration of Pro Bono, the Center hosted a series of events, including a talk by Jeffrey Deskovic, who was exonerated of a crime after serving 16 years in. In March, the Center co-sponsored a panel discussion on “Families, Neighbors, Refugees: How New Immigration Policies Impact Our Community.” Both events had very strong student attendance.

Among the Center’s recurring offerings are its:

  • Annual Day of Service
  • Brown Bag Lunch Series with Public Interest and Public Service Lawyers
  • National Celebration of Pro Bono
  • Pro bono Service Opportunities
  • Pro bono Training Workshops
  • Public Interest Panels and Lectures
  • Public Interest Auction
  • Spring Break Service Trips
  • Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program

The Center’s commitment to supporting public service is evident in its signature event: the annual Public Interest Auction, which raises significant funds to support the Law School’s Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program and other public service initiatives.

View 2017 Public Interest Auction Photo Gallery

“The Public Interest Auction is very much a collaborative effort,” says Professor Calabrese. “Assistant Dean Nancy Brady, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, our Special Events team, and the Center’s student leaders all work together to make the event a success and, ultimately, everyone’s efforts help our students pursue their passion for serving the public good.”

With the success of this year’s Public Interest Auction, the Law School recently announced its 2017 Summer Public Interest Fellows, as well as the recipients of the New York Council of the Defense Lawyers Sam Dawson Summer Fellowship (Allison Smalley '18) and Summer 2017 Catalyst Public Service Fellowships (Allison Cabibbo '19, Daniel Ishoo '19, Camila Sosa '19, and Stephen Van Doran '19). The Law School’s 2017 Summer Public Interest Fellows are:

  • Max Bartell '19 (U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York)
  • Christina Borges '19 (Westchester DA)
  • Christina Brennan '18 (Bronx DA)
  • Yesenia Campiglia '18 (Administration for Children’s Services)
  • Justin Daly '19 (NYPD Advocate’s Office)
  • Leighanne Daly '18 (Queens DA)
  • Shannon Dempsey '19 (Queens DA)
  • Gabby DeRosa '19 (Suffolk DA)
  • Denise Feliciano '18 (Administration for Children’s Services)
  • Kyle Gens '18 (Brooklyn DA)
  • Emily McNiff '19 (NYPD Legal Bureau)
  • Adam Myren '19 (Bronx DA)
  • Christine Obierika '18 (Fulton County DA, Atlanta, GA)
  • Ricki Parks '19 (NYPD Legal Bureau)
  • Janel Rottkamp '18 (Legal Aid Society)
  • Emily Santoro '19 (NYS Attorney General)
  • Stephanie Tan '18 (Contra Costa Public Defender)
  • Michelle Yepes '19 (Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services)
  • Wanyu Cho '19 (Federal Public Defender, Northern District of Texas)

The collective 24 fellowships will provide over $100,000 in summer employment funding for these deserving St. John’s Law students.

The Public Interest Center gets strong support from its student-run executive board. Members work tirelessly to help organize the Public Interest Auction. They are also the driving force behind annual Center-sponsored service trips. This year, in coordination with Assistant Dean for Students Kimathi Gordon-Somers, the Center sent students to two different service trip locations—New Orleans, LA and San Antonio, TX—where they worked with local public interest organizations Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, respectively.

The 2017-18 Public Interest Center Executive Board members are:

  • Executive Director: Antonia Edwards '19
  • Co-Directors of Fundraising: Ryan Debiase '19 and Ricki Parks '19
  • Director of Marketing and Public Relations: Kyle Gens '18
  • Director of Speaker Series and Alumni Relations: Gabriella DeRosa '19
  • Director of Special Events: Kaleigh Shea '19
  • Director of Spring Break Trips: Allison Cabibbo '19
  • Director of Volunteers: Meg Lombardo '18

The Center’s outgoing and incoming Executive Board members gathered recently with Professors Goldweber and Calabrese and students, administrators, alumni, and friends to celebrate the 2016-17 Center year and to present the Public Interest Award to Dianne Woodburn '00, Senior Staff Attorney at JASA/Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens.  

“This was a wonderful opportunity to honor an outstanding alumna, who was one of my very first clinic students,” Professor Goldweber says. “When she accepted the award, Dianne shared with us her belief that ‘to whom much is given, much is truly required.’ It’s a conviction that’s at the heart of the Public Interest Center’s mission of helping our students and graduates fulfill their professional obligation as lawyers to serve those most in need.”