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Class of 2012 Standouts in Fostering a Stronger Public Interest Community

In presenting the Minority Student Program’s 2012 Community Service Award at the recent MSP banquet, Jessica Kitson, Associate Director for Career Services, described the recipient as “someone who recognizes that there are people with needs and announces I want to meet those needs.” Kitson, who also is co-director of the Eric R. Neisser Public Interest Program, was describing Laura Marchini but could have been talking about dozens of others in the Rutgers School of Law–Newark Class of 2012. They are students who are passionate about using the law to advance social justice, committed to serving the public interest, and proud of the school’s support for those focused on a public service career. “With clarity about why they came to law school and a can-do attitude,” says Kitson, “these students have invigorated existing programs, started new programs, and planned other initiatives for the next group of public interest leaders at Rutgers Law to realize.”

Five notable Class of 2012 members describe their public interest work.

As an enlisted soldier Eric Chen was an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army from 1997 to 2001. In 2007 he received a B.A. in political science from Columbia University where he co-founded Students United for America and Advocates for Columbia ROTC. In law school, Chen’s activities have included associate editor of the Rutgers Conflict Resolution Law Journal, Nathan Baker Mock Trial Competition finalist, Federalist Society class representative, and student in the Special Education Clinic. Most significantly, he is co-founder of a new pro bono program to provide legal assistance to veterans.

Eric Chen
Pvt. Eric Chen, at basic training in 1997, is shown with with his mother and Drill Sergeant Stewart.

I am proud that Rutgers School of Law–Newark has fully embraced veterans advocacy with the SBA’s recognition of the Rutgers Law Veterans Support Group (RLVSG) and the creation this spring of the Veterans Assistance Pro Bono Project. It makes for a special graduation present.

The simple explanation for my interest in veterans advocacy is that I am a proud Army veteran who is concerned about our society’s relationship with her veterans. However, I was only superficially aware of the systemic challenges facing veterans until I wrote a paper on veterans issues for Professor Marilyn Askin’s Elder Law Seminar last spring. Professor Askin deserves credit for first planting the idea, when she recommended that I find a way to make veterans issues a part of the Rutgers Law School public interest mission.

The information that jarred me to act is that two large groups of veterans with extraordinary yet distinct needs are placing tremendous pressure on the system right now: Vietnam-era and post-9/11 veterans. A system that was already problem-filled is simply being overwhelmed. Top-down fixes, such as more legislation and changing Veterans Administration directors, have had limited effect. Veterans need help from Rutgers Law to fix the system from the ground up.

I accept part of the credit for our accomplishment, but the credit is rightfully shared. My role was merely as a catalyst. As a 3L, the best I could hope to do was to lay a foundation upon which others could bring the program to life.

Last fall, Marc Armas, a Coast Guard veteran, joined the project as a student leader who (very important) as a 2L would not be graduating this year, while Neisser Public Interest Program co-director Jessica Kitson guided the project’s pro bono direction. This spring, William Greenberg ’67, a retired Brigadier General and partner at McCarter & English LLP, laid a key piece of the foundation when he agreed on behalf of McCarter & English to be our pro bono partner.

1Ls Robert Hayes and Alex Hernandez, both Army veterans, laid the other key piece of the foundation when they started RLVSG. Dean Farmer’s support also was instrumental.

I look forward to Rutgers Law making a difference for New Jersey’s and all deserving veterans.

Marsha Wenk Public Interest Fellow Ione Curva received a B.A. in psychology from Dartmouth College. She is research editor of the Rutgers Law Review, a Philip J. Levin Scholar, Charles H. Revson Law Students Public Interest Fellow, Equal Justice America Fellow, and Fannie Bear Besser Public Service Scholar. Her article “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: How New Jersey Prostitution Reform Can Reduce Sex Trafficking” is forthcoming in the Rutgers Law Review and “Exposing the Invisibility of Teen Dating Violence in New Jersey” is forthcoming in the Women’s Rights Law Reporter. Curva has accepted a clerkship with the New Jersey Appellate Division.

Ione Curva

I knew coming into law school that I wanted to use my education and prior experiences to help make a difference. Getting to practice law is a privilege, and as such we have a responsibility to give back to those less fortunate and do what we can to help make things better. 

As a first-year student, I threw myself into a myriad of different activities that attracted my attention – the Women’s Law Forum, Domestic Violence Advocacy Project, Public Interest Law Foundation, Immigrants’ Rights Collective, and the Asian-Pacific American Law Students Association. I spent the majority of time when I was not doing schoolwork helping these organizations in whatever way I could because I believed they each did valuable work that helped a variety of communities. 

Throughout the rest of my time in law school, I have been involved in different capacities with each of these organizations, but also spent a significant amount of time at Rutgers as a Marsha Wenk Public Interest Fellow, getting to advocate for public interest informally as well as formally by assisting and planning public interest events.

I thank Rutgers for supporting the belief that lawyers have a commitment to serve the public and help enact social change.

Jeffrey Chang, as an undergraduate at Clark University, co-founded the National Student Genderblind Campaign to address the need for affirmative gender identity and LGBT college policies. His B.A. is in government/urban development and social change. He twice was awarded a PILF grant for his summer work at the Urban Justice Center and then at Lambda Legal. He is a managing articles editor of Rutgers Race & the Law Review and a student in the Child Advocacy Clinic. Chang’s signature achievement is creating the Neisser Public Interest Student Advising Program.

Jeff Chang

I came to Rutgers Law School, in large part, for its deep commitment to social justice.

While most of my work has involved working outside the law school, over the past year I focused my advocacy efforts on building a stronger public interest community within Rutgers. Working with a group of like-minded students and the Eric R. Neisser Public Interest Program, we developed one of the first peer-advising programs dedicated to meeting the unique needs of students pursuing public interest and public service careers.

With 25 upperclass advisors and 24 1L advisees, our “Pathways to Public Interest Law” program was a great success and assisted students with everything from adjusting to law school, academic success, and wellness to finding summer jobs and making connections with public interest practitioners and organizations. While many of the advisees have certainly gained much from the program, several upperclass advisors found it enriching to use the counseling skills they learned during law school in a different way.

Recognizing the needs of first-year law students, I also conducted independent research this year with Professor Laura Cohen on ways in which law schools across the country are crafting more affirming curriculums for public interest law students. Interviewing students at several law schools, including ours, I gained an understanding of our shared experiences and the importance of curricular reform. In the upcoming months, I hope to present my findings to law school stakeholders.

Timothy D’Arduini is senior managing editor of Rutgers Law Review, in which position he helped publish a previously unpublished monograph by the 9/11 Commission, and a Marsha Wenk Public Interest Law Fellow. He placed second for his brief and fifth overall in the Nathan Baker Trial Court Competition, is a member of the Moot Court Board, and a Philip J. Levin Scholar. As a 2L he interned for New Jersey Supreme Court Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia. After graduation he will serve as a law clerk to Justice LaVecchia and then as a first-year associate at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington, DC. D’Arduini graduated from Georgetown University with a B.S. in foreign service, culture and politics.

D'Arduini and friends
Timothy D’Arduini (second from right) with his study mates for the past three years (l-r) Andrew Kuntz, Laura Marchini and Taylor Herman.

After spending six years as a student and then working in Washington, DC, I came home to New Jersey to be closer to my family. Thankfully, three years later, the law school — because of the friends, professors, and administrators I’ve met —has become my second home in New Jersey. I've been so lucky to meet people who embody so much of what I love about my close-knit, immediate family. The people, their passions, their dreams inspire and embolden me to be a better lawyer, a better advocate, a better friend, a better son, a better brother —every day. For that, I cannot thank them enough.

While I’ve done well as a law student, the Rutgers accomplishments of which I am most proud have occurred outside of the classroom setting. I attribute my successes in both areas to the strong values that were instilled in me by my family, especially by my late father and my mother.

After my first year, I put my legal experience to work helping others as a legal intern at Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services in Washington, DC. In my second year, as a co-chair of the Rutgers Public Interest Law Foundation, I worked to raise $88,000 for grants for my colleagues to pursue unpaid, public interest law opportunities over the summer — a historic feat for the organization.

At my core I’m a political activist, so while in Washington, DC where I was a summer associate at Baker & McKenzie, I and two friends organized one of DC’s largest young professional political fundraisers, helping to raise more than $20,000 for the first openly LGBT U.S. Senatorial candidate, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

Rutgers School of Law–Newark has meant so much to me that I’ve looked for ways to combine my political interests with institutional advancement opportunities. I’ve done fundraising for alumna Elizabeth Warren in New Jersey and New York and volunteered to serve on the legal team that supported Dean John Farmer in his role as the 13th, independent member of the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Committee.

I am truly proud to be graduating from such an awesome institution, one that has constantly challenged me to pursue my lifelong dream of affecting social change.

Laura Marchini ’12 received a B.A. in jurisprudence from Montclair State University, where she wrote her senior thesis on “Battered Woman Syndrome and the Defense of Justification.” As a 3L, Marchini has been submissions editor of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, DVAP co-coordinator, Courtroom Advocates Project coordinator, a student in the Child Advocacy Clinic, and a research assistant to Associate Professor Reid Weisbord. Next year she will clerk for the Hon Claude Coleman, judge of the Superior Court, Essex County Vicinage–Family Part.

Laura Marchini

Immediately upon starting my first year of law school, I got involved in community service through student organizations. With a classmate, I became co-chair and revived the Women’s Law Forum (WLF), which doubled in size and became one of the most active student organizations on campus. Through WLF, I organized the now annual Ladies Day Panel and substantive International Women’s Day events, which served as fundraisers for non-profit organizations.

Also during my first year, I founded the now annual Take Back the Night Rally and March, a joint event with Seton Hall Law School. This event unites the law schools and the greater Newark community in standing against sexual and domestic violence and creates a safe space for victims to share their stories. Take Back the Night has grown so much that it is now co-sponsored by the leading domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy agencies in Essex County, as well as Rutgers–Newark Health Promotion Services.

The most valuable experience of my law school career was serving as the Domestic Violence Advocacy Program (DVAP) co-coordinator. I was responsible for running a pro bono program that provides legal assistance for domestic violence victims in court. I worked with Neisser Program co-director Jessica Kitson and coordinated law students and attorneys to volunteer at Essex County Family Courthouse and provide assistance and support to victims filing for restraining orders. Moreover, for the past two years I have worked on a project where law students volunteer to travel to area schools to educate teens on domestic violence. Finally, through DVAP, I fundraised for victims of domestic violence and got them food, clothing, emergency cell phones, and other resources.

My commitment to public service, especially to victims of domestic violence, is the reason why I came to law school. My work has shaped me as a person and has shown me the type of advocate I want to be. After graduation, I plan to take my experience at Rutgers and continue my work with domestic violence victims in Newark.