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Law students receive awards at convocation

May 14, 2010

Members of the Class of 2010 at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law will receive their Juris Doctor degrees and congratulations during convocation on May 14. The ceremony will begin at 2:30 p.m. in Gammage Auditorium on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University, and Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch is the speaker.

In addition to numerous awards being bestowed on the graduates for dedication to their studies and service to others, five students will be rewarded for their exemplary status. They include a former journalist, a microbiologist, an ex-schoolteacher, a Peace Corps volunteer, and a young man who always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. Their stories follow.

Gaona to receive Armstrong Award

Andy Gaona's roots in the law go deep. His father, David, is an attorney in Phoenix, and his mother, Joann (Class of 1985), gave birth to Andy shortly before her final exams.

"This will be my second law-school graduation," Gaona jokes, referring to Friday's convocation, where he will receive the John S. Armstrong Award from J. Samuel Armstrong.

The award honors Armstrong, an Arizona legislator who introduced the bill that established Arizona's first institution of higher learning, the Tempe Normal School (forerunner of ASU). The awardee is chosen by the faculty on the basis of academic performance and contributions to the College of Law.

Gaona, ranked first in his class of 149 students, fits the requirements well. He is both a Pedrick Scholar and a Berch Scholar, honors named, respectively, for the founding Dean of the College of Law, Willard H. Pedrick, and for Michael Berch, one of the College's most beloved professors, and Rebecca White Berch, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. Gaona was Executive Managing Editor of the Arizona State Law Journal, and a staff writer on that publication during his 2L year, and is a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association Mentoring Program. He also will be recognized at convocation as having highest Pro Bono distinction.

"The Armstrong Award is the greatest honor I've received in my still young life," he said. "I know the Armstrong family cares a great deal about this award and the person who gets it, and I can only hope that, in my legal career and the rest of my life, I can live up to the examples of the people who have gone before me and won this award."

Amy Langenfeld
, chairman of the College of Law's awards committee, said Gaona was an easy choice, noting his accomplishments as a member of the Civil Justice Clinic and as a teaching assistant. Langenfeld congratulated Gaona on his appointment as a law clerk for Vice Chief Justice Andrew Hurwitz of the Arizona Supreme Court next year, after which he will work at the Phoenix law firm of Perkins Coie Brown & Bain.

"I'm looking forward to years of good news about Andy's career," she said. "But I'll miss running into Andy in the halls - he's always fired up about a case, or ready to tell a funny story, or better yet, offering to help with some project I'm working on. I've genuinely enjoyed working with him the past three years."

Gaona became interested in the law at an early age, having witnessed his first mock-trial competition at age 11 and participated in his first mock trial in the eighth grade. He was on the mock-trial team at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, and worked on political action committees and get-out-the-vote efforts while a student at the University of Arizona, where he graduated magna cum laude with degrees in Political Science and Spanish Literature.

A high point of law school was the clinic. "I was able to take the skills I now have and apply them in a way that benefitted people who otherwise couldn't afford an attorney. It was a real thrill and privilege to help people out," he said.

Public service award to be shared by law graduates

Two law graduates whose resumes are loaded with prestigious honors, impressive experiences and a multitude of pro bono work will receive the Carey/Armstrong Award for Achievement in Public Interest from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

Sarah Barrios and Sarah Laidlaw will be presented with the award at the College's convocation, at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, May 14, in Gammage Auditorium. The award recognizes the students with the greatest contribution to public service during their law-school career, and is funded by the W.P. Carey Foundation, in demonstration of its long-standing motto, "doing good while doing well."

Cultivating a love for the law in future generations is among Barrios' deepest passions. With husband Jimmy Cool, also a 2010 law graduate, she co-coached the Sun Devil Mock Trial Program, which trains ASU undergraduates interested in trial advocacy at competitions at the state, regional and national levels. She co-founded and has served on the College of Law's Youth Mentoring Board, and been involved throughout her time at law school in the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) Mentoring Program.

Professor Charles Calleros said Barrios' youth mentoring activities is the tip of her monstrous iceberg (more than 1,500 hours) of public-interest work and community service.

"Since her first year of law school, Sarah has served as a mentor of students in junior and high school and college students in the Phoenix HNBA mentoring program, and she even traveled to the 2009 annual meeting of the HNBA in New Mexico to team-teach a Street Law program for high school students," Calleros said. "Perhaps most impressively, Sarah joined with a few other students to organize and team-teach an annual day-long mock trial academy at our law school for high school mock-trial teams. She helped to lead this effort each of the three years of her course of study here."

More recently, shortly after completing her last law-school exam, Barrios helped Calleros plan a summer law camp for high school students.

"She has set a high standard for mentoring at the law school," he said.

A former Tucson teacher, Barrios also cares deeply about the family structure, and was pained by the divorces that broke apart her students' homes. So, she worked in the Family Law Division of Community Legal Services, and at the Phoenix law firm of Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre & Friedlander, P.A., where she hopes to make a difference after graduation.

While teaching was rewarding, Barrios, who participated in mock trial as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, missed the courtroom. She viewed law school as a place to be challenged and a law career as a way to empower people with knowledge.

Barrios jumped in with both feet, winning the coveted mock-trial award, the Jenckes Cup, as a first-year law student, being named a Pedrick Scholar and a Berch Scholar, and racking up a perfect score at the 2009 ABA National Criminal Trial Advocacy Competition, among other accolades. She joined a dozen organizations in the law school.

"Public interest work makes lasting connections to the community and to people you are going to be working with in the legal field - clients, professors, attorneys - and it helps makes your experiences in law school more unique and special than they otherwise would be," Barrios said. "ASU does a really good job of making Pro Bono an important part of law school."

She credits the law school administration, faculty and staff with fostering an environment where jumping in is contagious.

"The energy of this law school, the people here are always moving, and the opportunities for growth pushed me to be a law student who reached out and tried new things, and that helped me grow and to help others grow with me," she said.

Barrios is looking forward to keeping her connections with ASU, where she will continue teaching a legal studies and advocacy course at Barrett, The Honors College, and at the College of Law, where she and Cool will help with the Moot Court Program.

Sarah Laidlaw's earliest familiarity with attorneys came in her family's living room, where she watched old episodes of "Perry Mason" and "Matlock" with her parents. Later, as a young journalist, Laidlaw got to know lawyers who wrote articles for the magazine where she worked, and she began to see the law as a career she might enjoy.

"I'm one of those people who like to move around, and do new things," said Laidlaw, who graduated with a journalism degree, magna cum laude from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. "And I picked the law school at ASU because I liked that they had a lot of pro bono work going on and encouraged students to take part in it, which I think is different from other law schools."

Since her days as a Girl Scout, when she organized camps for younger girls, and in high school, where she participated in leadership programs, Laidlaw has made a point to help others.

"Networking is a big deal, getting involved with other students, meeting attorneys, and I was drawn to the pro bono side, rather than to other student organizations," she said. "You read about the bad stuff going on in the world, and my interest was in trying to help people, even if it's just one person."

Laidlaw has done more than that, accumulating nearly 300 hours of pro bono service. She was president of the Pro Bono Board, working tirelessly on last fall's Justice for All Night, a celebration and recognition of the pro bono and public interest community, and also led Wills for Heroes, which drafts wills, living wills, and powers of attorney for first responders in Arizona. Laidlaw was fundraising chair of the Women Law Students' Association, student liaison for the Maricopa County Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division Executive Committee, and secretary of the Alumni Network Board of Directors of Barrett, The Honors College, which also named her its outstanding member.

In addition to her pro bono work, Laidlaw was a sharp student who assembled impressive work experience. She conducted research in a virtual law cluster at the College's Center for Law, Science & Innovation, and will receive a Law, Science, & Technology Certificate along with her Juris Doctor degree.

She clerked in the Capital Habeas Unit of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Phoenix, where she handled cases and was treated like a practicing attorney, and she was a legal extern for both the Arizona Supreme Court Staff Attorneys' Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Phoenix office.

Laidlaw also participated in the Arizona Justice Project, which is housed at the law school, and was a research assistant to Professor Robert Bartels, who handles criminal cases for the Justice Project. She took pride in writing a section of a habeas response that was virtually unchanged by attorneys on the case.

"I came to law school thinking I would do human-rights law or international law, because of my interests in the world, but some of my favorite classes were Constitutional Law and Criminal Law, and I discovered I want to work in criminal defense," Laidlaw said.

Bartels is sold on Laidlaw's organizational skills and dedication. "Sarah is like a juggler, with several public-service balls in the air at all times," he said. "And I've never seen her drop one."

Following graduation, Laidlaw plans to move to Portland and hopes to work in a public defender's office or with a nonprofit organization.

Donovan to be awarded Strouse Prize

Michael Donovan is the first to admit that his career path, from biology class to mice and parasites in the laboratory to law school, has been an "odd journey." But his scientific background, coupled with specialized training at the intersection of law and science that he received at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, have placed him on a firm foundation for the future.

When Donovan graduates on Friday, May 14, he will have earned a Juris Doctor degree, with Law, Science, & Technology certificates in Intellectual Property and Biotechnology and Genomics, and one of the law school's top honors. The Daniel Strouse Prize, given by the College's Center for Law, Science & Innovation, is named for the late Dan Strouse, a beloved professor and longtime Center director who died of cancer in August 2007 at the age of 57. The award rewards the law graduate whose academic strengths, contributions to the Center and personal qualities most closely mirror those of Strouse.

Donovan, who entered law school the same month Strouse died, has heard a great deal about him. "People talk about the warmth he had and being very intelligent and a good person," Donovan said. "It means a lot to me that there are people who recognize there are good human beings out there, especially in the legal profession, which has one, if not two black eyes in our society."

Professor Gary Marchant, the Center's Executive Director and a close friend of Strouse, said Donovan has many of Strouse's attributes.

"Michael has a quiet modesty that cannot mask a brilliant mind, a broad range of talents, a selfless dedication to services, and an enthusiastic commitment to his studies and the law school community," Marchant said. "Dan would be very pleased with the selection of Michael as this year's Strouse Prize winner."

Science always clicked for Donovan, who has a bachelor's degree in microbiology from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Immunology and Parasitology from the University of Notre Dame. But when the University of Michigan offered him a post-doctoral fellowship position, Donovan couldn't see himself performing biological research any longer and began exploring other options. When he discovered the law and science program at the College of Law, in a region of the country where he could escape brutal winters, Donovan knew he had found his match.

"The Center was a huge attraction for me," said Donovan, a Center Scholar who was at the top of his class in every law and science course offered at the law school, was Senior Articles Editor for Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, and a Research Assistant who worked closely with Marchant. "It's been like a home away from home for me, a great transition to the legal field."

Donovan found law school to be much like his science education. "Legal analysis is very similar to what you do in science, where you develop your own data to back up your argument," he said. "In law, you have to go out and find that information and back up your argument, rather than go out and do your own experiments."

Donovan, who is ranked second in his class of 149 students, said he found camaraderie among his classmates that he believes is rare for law school. "I will miss being able to walk through the Rotunda and say hi to people," said Donovan, who will start his legal career in the Intellectual Property group at Greenberg Traurig in Phoenix.

Public interest honor to go to Cunningham

For someone who wants to be involved in public-interest law, Patrick Cunningham was in the right place, at the right time this spring. As a law clerk for the Arizona Legislature, he worked closely with the House Democratic counsel on the state's tough immigration bill, which has created a firestorm of controversy and public interest around the country.

"I was involved in looking at its constitutionality," said Cunningham, who believes the law is not.

At the law school's convocation, he will receive the Judge Mary M. Schroeder Public Interest Award, which honors the 30 years that Schroeder gave to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The prize is a monetary award presented annually to a law student who has committed to practice in public-interest law upon admission to the Bar.

Cunningham, a former Peace Corps volunteer, decided to come to law school as a result of his two years in Dominican Republic as an environmental volunteer. "I enjoyed the Peace Corps, but I had a sense of frustration at not being to accomplish some things because I didn't have the resources or required leverage to affect change at a higher policy."

Cunningham, who is from Globe and has an undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, in international relations from the University of San Diego, knew law school would give him those tools.

"It was very interesting to learn these doctrinal theories in the classroom and see how they have shaped U.S. history," he said. "My minor was history, and my undergrad degree was very broad, so law school, a liberal arts education at its finest, was a great fit for me."

Cunningham achieved a well-rounded legal education. He spent his first summer of law school clerking at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Affirmative Civil Enforcement and Defensive Litigation sections, and his second summer at the Phoenix law firm of Quarles & Brady. He brought strong research, writing and analytical skills to the Arizona State Law Journal, where he was a staff writer as a 2L, and Editor-in-Chief this past year.

"I've always enjoyed writing and like reading journal articles because they provided a more comprehensive review of whatever the subject matter was," he said. "I didn't have the typical 3L year, but I was able to manage a staff of 65 and interact with faculty, deans and authors, and that was a really good experience."

Cunningham, a Willard H. Pedrick Scholar, also was a research assistant for Professor Betsy Grey, who described him as "a law professor's dream, a sharp thinker bringing a level of maturity, intellectual curiosity and professionalism to his studies not often seen in law students.

"Perhaps the most impressive thing about Patrick is that his focus has gone well beyond his studies," Grey said. "Throughout his time at the law school he has consistently volunteered in various ways to give back to the community. And he does this with an enthusiasm that is infectious, always putting 110 percent effort into everything he does. The Judge Mary M. Schroeder Public Interest Award is well-deserved, and it's just the beginning for Patrick."

Cunningham was the shelter director of the Homeless Legal Assistance Program at the downtown Central Arizona Shelter Services facility, which provides a variety of legal and non-legal help to people in need. He worked in the College's Post-Conviction Clinic, where students help exonerate those wrongfully convicted and correct other manifest injustices in the Arizona criminal justice system, and volunteered for the Arizona Justice Project.

"I always wanted to dedicate myself to public service," said Cunningham, who will clerk for Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Diane M. Johnsen next year. "I think it behooves you to get your name out there and demonstrate you are a multifaceted human being. I also feel like lawyers ideally should be the ultimate public servants, and the lawyers I respect the most are able to excel professionally while still maintaining a devotion to public service. I feel a calling to do just that."

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law