2014 Winners & Ceremony

Congratulations to the 2014 recipients of the Gary Bellow Public Service Award, Jessica Frisina and David Singleton!

Please join us to celebrate Jess and David — and their amazing public interest work — on Wednesday, April 16th, from 3:45-5:00pm in Milstein West B.

Jessica Frisina, Student Winner
Jess is a 3L who is passionate about criminal justice and energized by youth advocacy. Like many, Jess entered law school committed to pursuing a career in public interest, but uncertain about what area of law interested her most. After representing inmates in disciplinary hearings through the Prison Legal Assistance Project, representing clients in criminal and juvenile court through the Criminal Justice Institute, and spending her 2L summer at the juvenile public defender’s office in New Orleans, she is thrilled to say that she has found a home and a career for herself in juvenile justice. After law school, she is eager to return to Detroit to advocate for children at every step along the school-to-prison pipeline. She believes firmly that children belong in school, not jail, and that with the right support, resources, and advocacy, every child can succeed in the classroom. In addition to public interest work, Jess is equally passionate about the public interest community at HLS. As a student fellow for the Law & Social Change Program of Study, Jess focused her energies on strengthening that community by organizing retreats, discussion groups, faculty-student dinner series, and a TEDx-style conference that exclusively featured student voices. She is deeply grateful to everyone, both inside and outside the public interest community, who has challenged, supported, and grounded her these last three years. She knows that she will be a better advocate going forward because of all of you

David Singleton, ’91, Alum Winner
Representing pariahs and outcasts is what David Singleton was born to do. After graduating law school in 1991, David received a Skadden Fellowship to provide free legal services to homeless people in NYC. He then worked as a public defender for seven years, in Harlem and then in Washington, D.C. Now as the Executive Director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, David represents prisoners, to make sure they are treated fairly and humanely while incarcerated, and formerly incarcerated people, to help them overcome the barriers they face in becoming productive, law-abiding members of the community. In addition to his work with OJPC, David teaches at Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law, where he strives to convey to clinical students the importance of not judging people forever by the worst thing they have done.

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We would also like to once again recognize our other finalists, whose committed and innovative advocacy is a continuing inspiration to the HLS community!

Student finalists:
Lerae Kroon
Matt Nickell
Jeanne Segil

Alumni finalists:
Chloe Cockburn ’07
Mercedes Montagnes ’09

Student finalists:
Lerae Kroon
Lerae is dedicated to providing civil legal services to low-income clients. She is a student attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau where she provides full representation to indigent clients in housing, family, and wage & hour cases. She also co-leads HLAB’s Pro Se Divorce Clinic which assists low-income individuals without lawyers in filing for and obtaining divorces, and participates in the Attorney for the Day program serving unrepresented litigants at the Boston Housing Court. Lerae is also a member of the Tenant Advocacy Project, where she advocates on behalf of tenants in disputes with public housing authorities and represents them at grievance hearings. In her summers, she has worked with a variety of legal services providers on immigration, foreclosure eviction defense, government benefits, and child welfare issues, and plans to continue to provide direct legal services to vulnerable populations post-graduation.

Matt Nickell
Matt has been involved in public interest work and housing justice issues from the moment he came to law school. Since his first semester, he has spent almost every Saturday morning with Project No One Leaves canvassing foreclosed homes to inform residents of their rights; currently he is PNOL’s Co-President and involved in planning the nation’s largest foreclosure response conference. Matt also served as an advocate for the Tenant Advocacy Project, for which he was an intake director his second year. As a member of the housing practice of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Matt has been very invested in the organization’s foreclosure task force, representing tenants and former homeowners in court almost every week. On Tuesday evenings he can be found at meetings organized by City Life-Vida Urbana — a community organization dedicated to fighting foreclosure and displacement — where he provides legal advice and coordinates legal tactics with City Life’s organizing strategy. Before coming to HLS, Matt did housing advocacy and public interest work as a volunteer for the Suitcase Clinic, a health and social service provider for homeless families and individuals in Northern California.

Jeanne Segil
Jeanne has devoted herself to the pursuit of social justice. Prior to law school, she taught at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, the institution where Nelson Mandela once attended school, which exposed her to the impact of reconciliation and restorative justice. At HLS, Jeanne returned to South Africa through the International Human Rights Clinic to partner with the Equal Education Law Center in their campaign for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. Jeanne serves as an Executive Director of the Prison Legal Assistance Project where she mentors and supervises students as they represent clients in prison. She also organized panel events on wrongful convictions and solitary confinement and has represented clients in two parole hearings and a disciplinary hearing. In addition, Jeanne represents indigent individuals involved in the Massachusetts court system through the Criminal Justice Institute. Outside of law school, Jeanne interned at the Equal Justice Initiative, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and the Community Conferencing Center. She is thrilled to return to the Equal Justice Initiative next year through their Legal Fellowship.

Alumni Finalists:
Chloe Cockburn, ’07
Civil rights lawyer and policy strategist Chloe Cockburn serves as an Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the National ACLU, where she devotes her energy to the Fair Justice Smart Justice Campaign to End Mass Incarceration. A passionate advocate and organizer, Chloe collaborates with policy leaders at ACLU affiliates around the country to pass legislation reforming extreme sentencing laws, implementing sensible drug policies focused on health rather than criminalization, and reducing the tide of low-level offenses pouring into the criminal justice system. Her work is grounded in the principle of racial justice and a conviction that in order to foster safe and healthy communities, we must end our addiction to incarceration as the answer to all our social problems. Prior to joining the policy department at the ACLU, Chloe served as a fellow at the Vera Institute, as a law clerk to the Honorable Charles Sifton in the EDNY, as a fellow at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project, and at the civil rights law firm of Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin. Chloe is a co-author of the recent white paper “Healthcare not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform,” available here.

Mercedes Montagnes, ’09
Mercedes Montagnes has been working towards criminal justice reform in Louisiana since she first attended Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mercedes worked to bring students to hurricane-torn New Orleans twice to help rebuild the public interest legal infrastructure and had an opportunity to work with the public defender’s office. Since this formative experience, Mercedes has been focused on some of the most troubling aspects of criminal justice, including horrible prison conditions, extreme sentencing, and the lack constitutional criminal representation. Most recently, through the newly formed nonprofit The Promise of Justice Initiative, Mercedes has successfully challenged the extreme heat conditions on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola and Louisiana’s lethal injection protocol for carrying out executions. In her short career, she has worked to bring together many of the vibrant public interest groups around New Orleans to partner on systemic reform.

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