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Distinguished Alumni Recall Inspiring Professors, Gifted Classmates

Graduates and friends of Rutgers School of Law–Newark came together for the 2012 Alumni Association Annual Recognition Dinner to recognize the achievements of three who have been exemplary in their contributions to the legal profession and society.

Dean John J. Farmer, Jr. with (l-r): Vincent Warren ’93, Judge Rosemary Gambardella ’79 and Sumeeta A. Gawande ’95, president of the Alumni Association.

The occasion was also an opportunity for attendees to reconnect with old friends and classmates, meet the recipients of Alumni Association scholarships, and hear from Dean John J. Farmer, Jr. and the campus’s Interim Chancellor, Philip Yeagle, about the latest developments at the law school and Rutgers–Newark.

Hon. Rosemary Gambardella ’79, Judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey, and Hon. Hazel R. O’Leary ’66, president of Fisk University, received a Distinguished Alumna Award. The Fannie Bear Besser Award for Public Service was given to Vincent Warren ’93, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The awards were presented to Judge Gambardella by Karen Giannelli ’79 and to Vincent Warren by his wife, Ann Marie Scalia ’93. Professor Frank Askin was asked to present the award for classmate Hazel O’Leary and say a few words in her absence.

In her acceptance remarks Judge Rosemary Gambardella noted her “long and deep ties” to Rutgers University (she was a member of the first class of women undergraduates at Rutgers College) and her great pride in being a Rutgers Law School alumna. In addition to her twin sister, Frances Gambardella, and Karen Giannelli, she pointed out that the Class of 1979 had numerous outstanding graduates, including New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, David Harris, Neal Mullin, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, and Roxanne Jones Gregory. “The list goes on and on,” she added.

Judge Gambardella was at Rutgers Law when the popular concept of law school was shaped by The Paper Chase, the 1970s’ film and TV series about an imperious Harvard contracts professor and his students. “While our faculty shared the same brilliance,” she said, “our students and faculty did not appear to share the values portrayed in that story of competition for competition’s sake.” The gifted faculty included Arthur Kinoy and Allan Axelrod, with whom she took two courses on the Uniform Commercial Code.

The class also benefitted from “a robust Minority Student Program,” a student body “diverse as to gender, race and ethnicity,” clinics that are “a model for the rest of the country,” and strong journals such as the pioneering Women’s Rights Law Reporter.

Upon receiving her law degree, Judge Gambardella served as law clerk to the late Chief Bankruptcy Judge Vincent J. Commisa and then senior staff counsel to Hugh M. Leonard, the first U.S. Trustee for the Districts of New Jersey and Delaware. Judge Gambardella was sworn in as a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge in May 1985, becoming the first woman on the Bankruptcy Court in the District of New Jersey. She first served in the Camden vicinage, where she oversaw the Chapter 11 reorganization of Elsinore Shore Associates, the former Atlantis Casino Hotel, Trump Taj Mahal Casino & Hotel, and Resorts International, Inc. In 1992 she transferred to the Newark vicinage where she oversees commercial and consumer bankruptcy cases.

Alumni Association officers and board members include (l-r): immediate past president Scott Walker ’00, dinner co-chair Lorraine Abraham ’74, treasurer Randall Brett ’07, dinner co-chair Robyn Valle '95, president Sumeeta Gawande ’95, president-elect Barbara Schweiger ’98, and vice president Keith Miller ’93.

To those considering entering the legal profession, Judge Gambardella said: “Today, when people lament that there are too many lawyers and that prospective law students should consider alternatives, my answer remains the same – if you want to go to law school then please go. The rewards of a law school education, particularly the education we received at Rutgers, made us the people we are today — people dedicated to the concepts of fairness and justice in our great state of New Jersey, our country and the world.”

Judge Gambardella, who counts herself lucky to have grown up in Newark, observed that while the city has gone through challenges over the years, “the law school has remained a constant — reaching out to the greater Newark community through its clinical programs and its outreach to young people, among other projects. The so-called ‘Renaissance’ of Newark,” she said, “owes its success, in part, to institutions like Rutgers Law School.”

In videotaped remarks, Hazel O’Leary noted that she was the third member of what she described as a “phenomenal” class to be honored by the Alumni Association. The others are New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long and Professor Frank Askin. She looked back with fondness on her time at Rutgers Law School, stating “I’m extremely grateful to a number of my professors, principally Arthur Kinoy, who taught me that if you believe in the rights of other people, you not only need to fight for them, but you need to hone the intellectual skills to do so with a great deal of success.” 

O’Leary was a 2L when she took a class with Professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who began her teaching career at Rutgers Law School. Justice Ginsburg, O’Leary said, “gave full face to the fact that the most brilliant women in the United States that graduated from law school could not find placement in major law firms on the East Coast, and sharpened my awareness of the need to work on issues of entry into the workplace – not only for women, but all people who were denied.”

O’Leary was president and chief executive officer of Fisk University from 2004 until her retirement at the end of 2012. Before that she was the president and chief operating officer of Blaylock & Partners, an investment banking firm. She served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy from 1993 to 1997 and in the late 1970s was administrator and deputy administrator of the department’s Economic Regulatory Administration. Her career also included positions in the private sector throughout the 1980s and stints as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in New Jersey. 

Vincent Warren has spent his career in public service advocating on behalf of the disenfranchised. As executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), he uses international and domestic law to hold corporations and government officials accountable for human rights abuses; challenging racial, gender and LGBT injustice; and combating the illegal expansion of U.S. presidential power and policies such as illegal detention at Guantanamo Bay, rendition, and torture.

Previously, he was a national senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, where his civil rights litigation focused on affirmative action, racial profiling, and criminal justice reform cases. Before that, Warren monitored South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and worked as a criminal defense attorney for the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn.

David Baumwoll ’13

Warren was the first student at Rutgers School of Law–Newark to receive a public interest fellowship named after Arthur Kinoy. The fellowship, now known as the Kinoy-Stavis Fellowship, honors two of the founders of CCR. In addition to Kinoy, Warren found career inspiration in classes and clinic with other several other faculty, including Chuck Jones, Nadine Taub, Frank Askin, Eric Neisser, Al Slocum, and Paul Tractenberg.

Attributing his longstanding commitment to justice to his experience at the law school, Warren said: “Rutgers has always been a center of justice in which students grapple with some of the most pressing legal problems of the day. My time in the Constitutional Litigation Clinic, Women’s Rights Clinic, and my stint as articles editor at the Women’s Rights Law Reporter were key to my development as a civil rights lawyer.”

Silvia Medina '13
Silvia Medina ’13

The Alumni Association also awarded scholarships to two exceptional students. David Baumwoll ’13 accepted the Fannie Bear Besser Scholarship for Public Service from Robyn Ann Valle ’95, dinner co-chair. Baumwoll holds a B.A. in political science and psychology from Tufts University and a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is an associate editor of the Rutgers Race & the Law Review and a member of the National Mock Trial Team, and past co-chair of the Public Interest Law Foundation and a 2011-2012 Eagleton Fellow. Baumwoll has spent the last three summers interning for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Silvia Medina ’13 accepted the Alumni Recognition Dinner Scholarship, given to a student who best embodies the commitment to excellence, opportunity and impact that are hallmarks of Rutgers alumni, from dinner co-chair Lorraine A. Abraham ‘74. After receiving a B.A. in psychology from Douglass College, Medina joined the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts as an information technology analyst. Among many projects, she worked on the development and implementation of the Principles of Municipal Court Administration Training program. While working full-time, she came to the law school as a part-time student. She is the editor-in-chief of the Rutgers Law Review and a member of the Moot Court Board and the Association of American Law Students. She previously served as Student Bar Association vice president for the evening program and as a Minority Student Program facilitator.