In an April 16th ceremony, Harvard Law School student Jessica Frisina ’14 and alumnus David Singleton ’91 were honored with the Gary Bellow Public Service Award. The award was created in 2001 in honor of Professor Gary Bellow, a pioneering public interest lawyer, founder and former faculty director of Harvard Law School’s clinical programs. Each year, the Harvard Law School student body selects a student and alumnus/a whose commitment to social justice best demonstrates how lawyers can litigate, educate, advocate and organize to promote justice.
Frisina came to HLS with a commitment to public interest but uncertain about what area of law interested her the most. Between conversations with friends and clinical instructors, she came to realize her passion for criminal justice and started representing inmates in disciplinary hearings through the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP). She spent her 2L summer at the juvenile public defender’s office in New Orleans and then went on to the Criminal Justice Institute to represent clients in criminal and juvenile court.
“Jess has made my job very easy,” said Kristin Muniz, clinical instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute. “She is diligent, compassionate and fights very hard for her clients. Just recently she argued a very difficult Motion to Suppress. She was well prepared and responded to all of the judge’s questions, including citing to cases that supported her position. The judge noted that because of her presentation he would take the case under advisement and re-read the cases cited before making his ruling,” said Muniz. “That’s Jessica in every one of her cases – her dedication and preparation caused the judge to pause. With all of her CJI cases, the ones assigned to her and the additional ones that she volunteered to take from other students, she immediately calls the client, sets up an interview and gets down to work.”
Frisina thanked her HLS classmates for inspiring and challenging her over the past three years, her clinical instructors for teaching her what it means to be a zealous advocate, and the Office of Public Interest Advising for helping her realize her dream of pursuing juvenile justice. Thanks to all of these people, she said, she is leaving law school “more energized and motivated than when she began.” After she graduates, she hopes to pursue her passion by advocating for children in Detroit who are at risk of becoming caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline.
Alum winner David Singleton graduated in 1991 and now serves as executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. He represents prisoners, making sure they receive fair treatment, and helps formerly incarcerated people re-integrate into society by expanding opportunities for them to contribute to their communities. “You can see the sensitivity in his cases,” said Lisa Williams, Associate Director at the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising. “He took the Ohio Justice & Policy Center and transformed it into a Ford Foundation grantee.”
Prior to his role as executive director, Singleton worked as a public defender for seven years in Harlem and then in Washington, D.C. Before that, he served as a Skadden Fellow, providing legal services to homeless people in New York. “Professor Bellow was a giant,” he said. “Those of us who get the award are honored to exemplify his qualities.”
Dean Martha Minow gave the opening remarks. Sharing her pride with the students, she said she came to the law school in part because of Professor Bellow. His efforts opened up new opportunities for students to gain hands-on-experience, she noted.
Senior lecturer on law Jeanne Charn—Bellow’s wife—also remarked on his legacy, saying that he was firmly committed to greater equity and pushed his students to think deeply and widely about the practice of law.
Read more about all of this year’s Bellow Award finalists here.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog.