Karen Hester Reflects on the Rewards of a Career in Diversity and Inclusiveness
With four degrees behind her, Karen Hester ’01 has a wealth of education, knowledge, and experience that she has turned into a career working in the areas of diversity and inclusiveness. While she was born in Chicago, her father was in the Army, so she moved from place to place growing up. She considers Kansas home, and now she works in Colorado.
Her first two degrees are from Kansas State University: a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in student personnel and counseling. She later earned her juris doctor from the College of Law before returning to Kansas. There, she earned a LL.M. in taxation from the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law.
“I enjoyed law school… as you can tell, I really enjoy learning,” said Hester, lightheartedly referencing her degrees. “I worked between each of my degrees, and when I was in law school I think that I was really able to enjoy the moment.” At UC Law, she was involved in numerous programs and student groups: Black Law Students Association, Tenant Information Project, Student Court, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Student Legal Education Committee, and the Immigration and Nationality Law Review.
Currently, Hester serves as the executive director for The Center for Legal Inclusiveness in Denver, CO. The Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing diversity in the legal profession by actively educating and supporting private and public sector legal organizations in their own individual campaigns to help legal employers retain and advance diverse and female attorneys. And she feels strongly that her previous work has prepared her for this position.
Her professional career was in the field of career services at the University of Kansas School of Law. “I noticed that a lot of the work I was doing was related to diversity and inclusiveness at the time,” she shared. With some reflection and encouragement, she submitted a proposal to make diversity and inclusiveness officially part of her job duties, and it was ultimately accepted. “It was around this time that it really hit home for me. I remember having the feeling that ‘this is what I am supposed to be doing.’”
As the chair of the diversity committee for the Kansas Bar Association in 2011, Hester discovered the Center for Legal Inclusiveness while surveying what other organizations were doing. When the position of executive director opened up, she jumped on the opportunity and now has been in the role for about two years.
The Center held its 2015 Legal Inclusiveness & Diversity Summit on May 4, 2015 – a day-long conference with workshops, speakers, and panel discussions with over 200 attorneys from across the nation in attendance. The Center further produces an inclusiveness manual laying out step-by-step processes through which organizations can make themselves more diverse and inclusive.
In reflection on her work and her career path, Hester advises young attorneys and law students to “enjoy the moment.”
“I look at students today and see that things are different,” she said. “It’s more expensive, its harder to get a job -- I know some students out there wonder, is it worth it. I say it is. You may not take the path that others take, and that’s okay. Find your own way, you’ll find that the work you do is rewarding.”
College of Law Ranks 10th in Midwest Region for Hiring
Dean Mina Jefferson counsels Caleb Benadum ’14 and
A recent survey found that the University of Cincinnati College of Law ranked 10th in the Midwest region for hiring. Using data provided to the American Bar Association by the respective law schools, the survey compared UC Law’s employment rate with that of 42 Midwest universities. Read more about how the universities stack up in the ChicagoInno article: “42 Midwest Law Schools, Ranked by Graduate Employment”
Law students have the opportunity to work closely with the team from the Center for Professional Development—five attorneys with significant legal experience who are dedicated to preparing students for their career. The CPD team begins working individually with law students from their first semester through Professional Planning Meetings, helping them build competitive resumes, and managing activities and programs that promote professional development through service.
Learn how CPD helps prepare students for their careers: CPD
College of Law Students Receive Scholarship Awards from the Black Lawyers of Cincinnati
Remington A. Jackson ’15 and Georgeanna Bien-Aime’16 are both recipients of prestigious scholarships from the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati (BLAC). The BLAC is a professional organization committed to improving the administration of civil and criminal justice; working with national, state and local bar associations to solve problems particular to African American lawyers; and improving opportunities for all lawyers and law students to share equally in the benefits of the legal profession. The awards were announced at the organization’s annual scholarship and award banquet.
Jackson, who will graduate this month, is the recipient of The Theodore M. Berry Scholarship. This scholarship was created in recognition of the political, civic and legal achievements of former Cincinnati Mayor Theodore M. Berry, who was also a University of Cincinnati College of Law alumnus. A graduate of the College of Wooster, Jackson plans to pursue a career in labor and employment law or corporate law. While at the law school, he honed his leadership and professional skills while working at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the General Counsel’s Office for the university, and as a judicial extern to the Hon. Jeffery P. Hopkins, United States Bankruptcy Court-Southern District of Ohio. In addition, this past year he was president of the Black Law Students Association and vice-chair of the Midwest Region of the National Black Law Students Association.
“I will be using the funds from this scholarship for bar support to avoid taking out any additional student loans,” Jackson said. “But more importantly, the meaning of this scholarship goes far beyond monetary value. Since coming to Cincinnati, I was made aware of Judge Berry's achievements, such as being the first Black mayor of Cincinnati. But my mentors challenged me to dig deeper past those accomplishments to his character. Being awarded the Theodore M. Berry Scholarship is an immense and humbling honor not only because of the prestige associated with such a legal giant so much but also the fact that it will continue to help me build my career here in Cincinnati.”
Bien-Aime, a second year law student, was awarded The William A. McClain Scholarship, which is given to an African American student who demonstrates leadership potential and dedication to the community. Judge McClain, a member of the Bar of Ohio for more than 70 years, was a former Cincinnati City Solicitor, the first African American attorney to serve in this position of any major city in the country.
A graduate of Northern Kentucky University, Bien-Aime plans to focus her career on corporate transactional work, labor and employment, and regulatory compliance. At the College of Law she is an Associate member of the Freedom Center Journal, the Black Law Students Association and served as the Legislative Advocacy Specialist for the National Black Law Students Association Midwest Region this year. In addition, she volunteers throughout the Cincinnati community with groups such as the Avondale Bond Hill Legal Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, and the Volunteer Income Tax Association. She has interned for the Honorable John Andrew West, Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and is currently a legal intern with Cincinnati Public Schools and an extern with The Kroger Co.
“After passing the bar, I plan to go directly to an in-house legal department or to start my career at a small firm and then move to an in-house position,” she said. “I really appreciate this award,” Bien-Aime continued. “It will open doors and give me greater opportunity to advance the work of the late Honorable William A. McClain.”
College of Law Assistant Dean named President-Elect of the National Association for Law Placement
Cincinnati, OH—Mina Jones Jefferson, Assistant Dean and Director, Center for Professional Development at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, has been named president-elect of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), an association of over 2,500 legal career professionals dedicated to facilitating legal career counseling and planning, recruitment and retention, and the professional development of law students and lawyers. The 44-year-old organization advises law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools across North America and beyond.
Jefferson was recognized as president-elect at the NALP annual conference in Chicago, IL in April 2015. Her term includes service as president-elect in 2015-16, president in 2016-2017 and immediate past president in 2017-2018.
“This is a wonderful and well-deserved honor for Dean Jefferson that reflects the high esteem in which she is held by her peers across the country,” said College of Law Dean Louis D. Bilionis. “As the legal profession continues to experience major change, it needs strong leaders – and Mina is a great leader in the field.”
“It’s a privilege to have a leadership role with the preeminent organization for legal career professionals,” said Jefferson. “I look forward to advancing the initiatives identified in NALP’s strategic plan and upholding its foundational beliefs that law students and lawyers should benefit from a fair and ethical hiring process; that law students and lawyers are more successful when supported by professional development and legal career professionals; and that a diverse and inclusive legal profession best serves clients and our communities.”
Jefferson, a University of Cincinnati College of Law graduate, has a strong background in the legal hiring field. As a former hiring partner at a National Law Journal Top 250 law firm, she is one of the few law school career services professionals in the country who has worked on both sides of the table. She practiced commercial litigation for almost a decade and was one of the first African American women in the region elected to partnership at a large firm.
A published author, Jefferson writes on the topic of careers and professional development for numerous legal publications and is a sought after speaker on the topic of professionalism. She has also taught Ethics courses at the college, as well as the legal extern course.
Active in the community, she currently serves on the Steering Committee for the Cincinnati Academy of Leadership for Lawyers (CALL). Jefferson, a former co-director of the Law & Leadership Institute at the College, also served—by appointment—on the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Continuing Legal Education Committee. Additionally she has been a member of the board of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, Children’s Law Center, ProKids, and the Cincinnati Bar Foundation.
Ohio Innocence Project Attorneys and Exonerees Honored at Award Ceremony by Death Penalty Advocacy Group
L to R: Attorneys Gilbert, Godsey, Howe; Exonerees Bridgeman,
Jackson, Ajamu; Attorney Mills.
Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey, OIP attorney Brian Howe and exonerees received a “Special Recognition” award on May 7 in Beverly Hills, CA.
Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Professor Mark Godsey, Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) attorney Brian Howe, and three exonerees were recognized with the “Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award” at the 24th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards dinner, held on May 7 in Beverly Hills, CA. Death Penalty Focus, founded in 1988, is an organization committed to the abolition of the death penalty through public education, grassroots organizing and political advocacy, media outreach, and domestic and international coalition building. The award recognizes individuals whose actions and stories bring to light the flaws in the US judicial system.
Actors Mike Farrell and Ed Asner
Wrote Mike Farrell, the organization’s president, in an email about the award, “Your efforts which resulted in the exoneration of these men for a crime they did not commit are an incredible accomplishment. It is cases like these which further illustrate the importance of our work to end the death penalty.” Farrell, an actor and activist, is well-known for his role as Captain B.J. Honeycutt from the hit-TV show M.A.S.H. Event attendees included: Ed Asner, known for his Emmy Award-winnign role as Lou Grant during the 70s and early 80s on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and spin-off "Lou Grant and as Ed Wunclear on "The Boondocks', among many other film and TV roles; actress Amy Brenneman, known for her role in the TV-series "Judging Amy", Violet Turner in "Private Practice", and Laurie Garvey in HBO's "The Leftovers"; Larry Flynt, Jr., publisher and president of Larry Flynt Publications; and many others.
Godsey and Howe were recognized for their representation of Ricky Jackson. The OIP’s investigation also ultimately freed Jackson’s co-defendants, Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame (Bridgeman) Ajamu, who—along with Jackson—were honored for their courage and commitment. The men together served over 100 years in prison for a crime they did not commit; many of those years were spent on death row. Jackson has the tragic distinction of setting the record for the longest-serving person to be exonerated in U.S. history. They were exonerated in November 2014 after a key prosecution witness, Eddie Vernon, recanted his story that he saw the men shoot and kill Cleveland, OH businessman Harold Franks in 1975.
In addition to the OIP team and exonerees, several other individuals and organizations were recognized for their work at the event. Awardees included Dale Baich, an Assistant Federal Public Defender, who defended Joseph Wood, a man whose botched two-hour execution in Arizona last year was deemed by many to violate the Eighth Amendment; Rabbi Leonard Beerman, a founder of the DPF and lifelong opponent of capital punishment; and the program “Death Row Stories,” an 8-part CNN series exploring cases that pose hard questions about capital punishment and the justice system.
Attorneys for the exonerees are: Mark Godsey, Brian Howe'08, David Mills, Terry Gilbert
Actress Amy Brenneman.
About the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project
Harnessing the energy and intellect of law students as its driving force, the OIP seeks to identify and assist inmates in Ohio prisons who are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of committing. Innocence Projects across the country have freed more than hundreds of wrongfully convicted inmates to date. The Ohio Innocence Project to date has helped 23 individuals obtain their long-sought freedom.
Urban Morgan Institute Anniversary Celebration Video Presentations
Prof. McMahon Published Op-Ed on Death Tax Repeal Act in The Hill
Professor Stephanie McMahon recently published the op-ed “(Un)intended Consequences of Death Tax Repeal” in the April 29, 2015 issue of The Hill (a congressional blog). Her editorial looks at the impact of H.R. 1105, the “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015,” which would repeal the federal estate tax, and explains her concerns on the hidden agenda behind the bill. Read more here.
Prof. Sandra Sperino Give Presentation and Has Article Accepted for Publication
The article “Retaliation and the Reasonable Person”, written by Professor Sandra Sperino, was accepted for publication in the Florida Law Review. In addition, Professor Sperino recently participated in the Clifford Symposium at DePaul University College of Law where she presented her paper, “The Civil Rights Restatement”. Congratulations!
Prof. Jacob Cogan’s Article Published
Congratulations to Jacob Cogan, the Judge Joseph P. Kinneary Professor of Law. His work The Changing Form of the International Law Commission’s Work was recently published in EVOLUTIONS IN THE LAW OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS 275 (Roberto Virzo and Ivan Ingravallo eds., Brill | Nijhoff 2015).
A Jail by Any Other Name...
The personal observation from one law student’s experience at the South Texas Family Residential Center, an ICE Detention Center
The South Texas Family Residential Center, described in one word, is a euphemism. Opened in December of 2014, this “family detention center” looms large in the tiny town of Dilley, Texas, just over 80 miles from the US-Mexico border. Immediately next door is a Texas state prison; from the road, the two are indistinguishable, surrounded by high walls and perimeter lights.
Currently, the “family detention center” houses around 400 women and their children. However, it will soon be expanded to house over 2,400 women, at which point it will be the largest ICE detention center in the country. Many of the women detained in Dilley endured harrowing experiences in their home countries that prompted them to flee to the US in search of a life free from persecution and torture. Despite their status as victims of threats and violence, leading to potentially valid claims for asylum, these women are detained in what is, in actuality, a jail, and are monitored at all times by guards. You see, the “family detention center” is run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison company in the US.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the immigrant jail in Dilley is the facility’s choice and use of terms that make it less obvious that these women and their (often young) children are incarcerated. Trailers used for court, visitation, and dining all feature names reminiscent of cabins at a Girl Scout camp, such as “Purple Pigeon.” The correctional officers perform “counts,” just as would occur normally in a prison, though in the “family detention center,” the count is referred to as the “census.” CCA even took the time to plant palm trees around the outer security perimeter of the jail to make it look a little homier.
Meet the Women of Dilley
So who are the women I encountered in Dilley? The women were young – most I met with were less than 25 years old – and most had young children with them. All of the women were from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, and the vast majority of them do not speak any English. They have suffered extreme domestic violence, physical abuse at the hands of gang members, and threats that would make your blood curdle. These women showed me their knife wounds, revealed to me their children’s gunshot wounds, cried as they explained how gang members threatened to cut off their heads and kill their children, related to me stories of abuse so shocking that I have had countless nightmares ever since.
In the face of such persecution and torture, the courage and resilience that these women continue to show is nothing short of astounding. Yet, our country is treating them as if they are criminals who pose a danger to US society. Upon arrival at the border, many undocumented immigrants are taken to temporary detention facilities colloquially known as “hieleras” (iceboxes) for at least a day. When we asked the women to briefly tell us about their experience crossing the border, many voluntarily offered information about the hieleras, and the trauma and dehumanizing conditions they faced there. In addition to the obviously frigid temperatures (which caused many people’s appendages to turn blue), such accounts included descriptions of: overwhelmingly crowded cells with no space to sleep or even sit; damp concrete floors with no chairs, pillows, or blankets; utter lack of privacy; and denial of food and basic hygienic supplies. From the hieleras, immigrants are loaded into the border patrol vans – known colloquially as “perreras” (“dog kennels”) – to be taken to ICE facilities like the one in Dilley.
How the Journey Begins
The hieleras are merely the tip of the iceberg that is a broken immigration system – a system that is failing the women incarcerated in Dilley and countless others like them. For many immigrants, the dangerous journey begins with coyotes, who charge around $5,000 to $7,000 to deliver their passengers to the border – if the passengers are going to be caught by border patrol agents. Immigrants who wish to be taken to the border safely and cross without being caught by border patrol agents must pay around $14,000. So, unsurprisingly, most people pay what they can afford and are caught. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 requires that ICE officers question recently arriving immigrants, within a short time of coming into contact with them, regarding whether they are fearful of returning to their country of origin. If an arriving individual expresses fear of returning to his or her country of origin, the law requires that they be granted an interview with an asylum officer.
The law, and asylum seekers’ rights under it, is often not respected in practice. In Dilley, I discovered that the information on many women’s Notice to Appear forms – issued by ICE – was false. In many instances, women were either not questioned at all pertaining to whether they were fearful of returning; or if questioned, the questions were insufficient to elicit information relevant to an asylum claim (such as why a particular person is fearful). The varying diligence and truthfulness of ICE agents creates a system that is arbitrary in nature. To give one example, I will share a brief part of Alicia’s* story.
Alicia crossed the border within a few hours of her sister; she and her sister are the same age, each was accompanied by her only child, and each fled their home county for the same reason. Alicia and her sister encountered different ICE agents. The agent who interviewed the sister was able to determine that she was fearful of returning to her home country and should be allowed to apply for asylum; as a result, that agent allowed Alicia’s sister to leave ICE custody on parole and join her family. Alicia’s experience has been the opposite of her sister’s: the ICE agent she encountered did not question her about any fear of returning she may have and sent her to the jail in Dilley to be detained with her child. Once in the Dilley jail, Alicia met with an asylum officer, who determined that she most likely has a “credible fear” of persecution if deported, and her detention officer set a bond of $10,000 for her that was required to be paid in full before she was allowed to leave the jail and join her family.
Not only is it shocking that two individuals in the exact same situation were dealt with in a completely different manner, but it is also shocking that our government is setting such exorbitant bonds for women like Alicia. $10,000 is the average bond for the women of Dilley and can only be lowered to $7,500 in very select circumstances when the asylum seeker has the requisite number and type of supporting documents (such as identification cards and “letters of support” from friends/family in the US). This document requirement is occasionally made more difficult by the fact that possessions are easily lost during the dangerous one-month trip through Mexico to reach the US, and by the fact that family members are often separated at the border. While one woman I met – Lupe – was lucky because she had brought and retained a large number of supporting documents, she was beside herself because she had crossed the border with her cousin, who was taken to an ICE jail for men. The ICE officers had not allowed her cousin to bring anything with him, so she held on to all of his documents. She does not know where he was taken and has no way to get that information. ICE has an online locator for people in detention, but repeated searches – with his name spelled many different ways – uncovered no information about him. Thus, he is either in detention, held under an extremely high bond because he has no documents and no way to be reached by Lupe, or he has been deported to his home country, where his life is in imminent danger. Moreover, even if I had been able to find his location online, Lupe would not have been able to call and speak with her cousin, as individuals who are detained by ICE are not allowed to receive phone calls.
Barriers and the Court
The communication barriers and the isolation of asylum seekers who are detained continue throughout the asylum process. The situation becomes increasingly dire when the asylum seeker does not speak a common language, such as English or Spanish. In the Dilley jail, many of the women have escaped persecution in Guatemala; as a result, quite a few of them speak Quiche and do not understand enough Spanish to have a conversation or to be engaged in judicial proceedings in Spanish. For one particular young woman – Magdalena – this linguistic restriction has resulted in asylum hearings that are consistently continued whenever the Quiche interpreter is unavailable, which is an unpredictable and all-too-common occurrence.
The prevailing arbitrariness in how asylum seekers are treated is accompanied by other difficulties they encounter upon arriving in the US. Countless asylum seekers, especially the women I met in Dilley, are treated with disdain and outright hostility. One detention officer expressly told Graciela – a woman who had knife wounds and recounted chilling accounts of abuse – that she was fabricating her entire story, and that she would be deported because the asylum officer would not believe her “lies”. Such callousness was not only exuded by certain detention officers, but also by some immigration judges. For instance, Liliana, a mother of two children had enough money to bring one child to the US with her. So, she brought her son—mainly because a gang was actively trying to recruit him and his life was in danger. During a hearing, a judge berated Liliana for only bringing one of her children to the US and strongly implied that she must be a terrible mother for leaving her other child behind if the situation was “so dangerous.”
In light of emotional mistreatment and the lack of legal or community support for these women, it is obvious that they are in serious need of people willing to advocate for them. That is where I, and the CARA Pro Bono Project**, come in. The team leader of our volunteer group in Dilley aptly described our experience there as “guerrilla lawyering”: many moments, I felt like our group was fighting a battle simply to be allowed to help the women there. Our workweek consisted of assisting women at the jail from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day, with several more hours of work every evening. Yet, the long hours were arguably the easiest part of the week. We had to work in a “court” where the guards yelled at us any time we attempted to speak to our clients. We could not take phones into the facility and, thus, had to make many calls to women’s family members in the evenings. We did not have access to a printer or copier, which was crucial for purposes of completing paperwork, so we eventually bought one and hauled it into the facility daily. The week after we left, not surprisingly, the supervisors banned the Pro Bono Project from bringing the printer into the facility at all.
Obstacles that arose were exacerbated by the fact that the Dilley immigrant jail is a place where the rules always change. One day, the lawyers are allowed to enter without being required to show a Bar card; the next, it is required. One day, we can bring Internet hotspots into the facility; the next, this is an issue. One day, we are allowed to begin setting up makeshift offices in the visitation trailer beginning at 7:00 a.m.; the next, not until 8:00 a.m. One day, we are allowed to pass through security if we take off our belts and shoes; the next, we are informed that women will no longer be able to enter with underwire bras! One day, the women can turn in a particular request form to obtain documents; the next, the detention offices require their own, new form and do not allow the lawyers to have a copy of the new form to provide to our clients. Every single day, some additional hurdle was placed in front of us that made it more difficult to effectively communicate with, and represent, the women.
What made this struggle worthwhile? The women I have described above, and all of the other women in the exact same situation as them. Words cannot describe the happiness I felt when a woman I had helped was released on bond so that she could pursue her asylum claim as a free woman. Words cannot describe the relief I felt when I was able to look Graciela in the face and tell her that I believed her story, that I understood her pain, and that the asylum officer would believe her, too. Moments like these made the week that I spent in Dilley worth everything that I invested in it. But the fight is far from over. These courageous women are victims – not criminals – and our government’s reliance on family detention of immigrants needs to end right now. Family detention, especially detention of asylum seekers, is a travesty of justice and a dark stain on our nation’s already broken immigration system.
* All names provided herein are pseudonyms for confidentiality purposes.
** The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and its mandate are described here: http://www.aila.org/practice/pro-bono/find-your-opportunity/cara-family-detention-pro-bono-project.
Erin Welch is a 3L from Florida, drawn to the College of Law because of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. Duing the 2014/15 school year, she served as editor of the Human Rights Quarterly. After law school Erin plans to focus her career in the area of human rights