Year in Review

Meet 12 ABA members who inspired us in 2023

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In this year’s Members Who Inspire series, the ABA Journal featured 12 exceptional ABA members who impressed and invigorated us through their good works. They are changing the legal profession and their communities in distinct ways, including by transforming the juvenile justice system, expanding asylum protection to diverse immigrants and increasing access to in-prison education.

Brian WallachPhoto of Brian Wallach courtesy of I Am ALS.

“After ALS diagnosis, Brian Wallach fights for a cure: ‘This is our closing argument for our lives’”

Brian Wallach was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In the months after the diagnosis, he and his wife founded I Am ALS, a patient-led community offering support and resources to those impacted by ALS. It also serves as a hub for activists in the ALS community who want to effect change. Wallach, now an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Chicago, is also working on a campaign that raises the level of awareness, funding and research for all neurodegenerative diseases.

Aubrey ColemanPhoto of Aubrey Coleman by MG Photography.

“Aubrey Coleman is helping bring communities access to high-speed internet and other infrastructure”

Aubrey Coleman, a lawyer with an interest in infrastructure and public policy, became a program manager at Microsoft and began working with internet service providers to bring affordable broadband to people living in unserved rural areas. He also partners with community organizations to educate residents on how to obtain federal subsidies to reduce the price of internet access; how to safely navigate the internet; and how to access computers or tablets at lower prices.

Judge GrayPhoto of Judge Ernestine Gray by Kathy Anderson/ABA Journal.

“Judge Ernestine Gray created a model court that put New Orleans children and families first”

Judge Ernestine Gray retired from the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court after serving for more than 35 years. Through decades of work in the courtroom and with organizations like the ABA, she is credited with changing the field of children’s law not only in New Orleans but across the country. Among her efforts, she helped drastically reduce the number of abuse and neglect cases coming into the city’s juvenile justice system and establish her court as a model court for others.

TsionPhoto of Tsion Gurmu by Mauricio Norona.

“Tsion Gurmu calls on personal experience to support Black immigrants”

Tsion Gurmu was born in Ethiopia, and after coming to the United States, became drawn to international human rights and immigration. Upon discovering large numbers of LGBT Africans were fleeing their homes and seeking protection, she founded the Queer Black Immigrant Project in New York City. As part of her work, she represented LGBT African and Caribbean immigrants in their asylum proceedings and connected them to mental health and medical services. She later extended the project to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and now serves as the organization’s first legal director.

JoePhoto of Joe Bell courtesy of Bell, Shivas & Bell.

“Joe Bell fights to open cold case records of a 1946 mass lynching”

Joseph Bell Jr., a founder of Bell, Shivas & Bell in Rockaway, New Jersey, has been on a 10-year journey for justice in a case involving the 1946 mass lynching at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Monroe, Georgia—known as the last mass lynching in America. His mission? To secure grand jury transcripts from the proceedings, after which no one was charged with murdering the victims. “I feel that the historical significance of this case is that it is the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement in America,” Bell says.

JodiPhoto of Jodi Galvin by Deborah Connelly.

“Community Veteran Justice Project founder helps vets navigate legal needs”

Jodi Galvin spent several decades as a prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and investigator with the Orange County Public Defender’s Office. When thinking about her next steps, she decided to use her varied experience to help veterans, a population that mattered a great deal to her. Galvin founded the Community Veteran Justice Project, which offers military members facing criminal charges free assistance and information on two state laws that provide alternative sentencing for those who have served or are currently serving.

JulieJulie Biehl.

“Passion for Justice: Northwestern law prof fights for juvenile rights armed with research”

Julie Biehl, a clinical professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and the director of its Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center, has advocated for kids caught up in Illinois’ juvenile justice system for nearly four decades. The opportunity to both represent clients and conduct policy work has enabled her efforts, which includes changing the state’s expungement process. “It is a great way to practice law and teach students because you see the issues both from the individual perspective and the mega-mega perspective,” Biehl says.

SarahPhoto of Sarah Medina Camiscoli by Echoing Green.

“Youth Movement: Sarah Medina Camiscoli works for and with young leaders in New York City”

Sarah Medina Camiscoli has examined how and why educational and legal systems harm young people, first as a public school teacher and then as a lawyer in New York City. She founded IntegrateNYC, a youth-led organization that establishes equity and justice in schools, and helped launch the Peer Defense Project, an intergenerational movement lawyering initiative that supports youth leaders. Now an assistant professor at Rutgers Law School, she teaches education law and critical youth legal studies.

KerametPhoto of Keramet Reiter by Kirsten Lara Getchell.

“Keramet Reiter helps build in-prison education programs in California”

Keramet Reiter has spent countless hours inside prisons, working with individuals who are incarcerated and studying the impact of prison and punishment policies on them, their communities and the legal system. Reiter, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California at Irvine, has focused on expanding access to education as part of this work. She recently co-founded Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees, the first in-prison bachelor of arts program in the University of California system.

HollyHolly Dolejsi.

“Helping others is at the center of Holly Dolejsi’s practice”

Holly Dolejsi, a partner and deputy chair of the mass tort, personal injury and medical malpractice groups at Robins Kaplan in Minneapolis, has made pro bono a central tenet of her practice. She focuses on helping transgender and nonbinary individuals change their names as part of a free legal clinic her firm helped launch in 2019. She has assisted dozens of clients with the paperwork required for a legal name change and counseled them on what to expect during their court hearing and what to do once they receive an order granting their name change.

Amer ZahrPhoto of Amer Zahr by Houssam Mchaimech.

“Amer Zahr uses passions for law and comedy to promote Arab rights”

Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian who headlined at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall and performed for other diverse audiences across the United States and world. Zahr, who has a law degree and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, uses both his comedy and the law to bring attention to Arab culture and challenges. “Law school teaches you to think in a way and advocate in a way where you are brief and to the point,” he says. “Comedy is the same thing.”

Armin SalekArmin Salek.

“Armin Salek builds new pathway to profession for aspiring first-generation lawyers”

Armin Salek is the founder and executive director of the Youth Justice Alliance, a nonprofit organization in Austin, Texas, that provides aspiring first-generation lawyers with financial and institutional support starting in high school. Salek, who brings his passion for education and the law to his job, says the goal is to invest early in these students and help them overcome potential barriers to the legal profession. The organization welcomed eight fellows from the Austin, Texas, area in 2022, and 18 fellows from across Texas in 2023.

Members Who Inspire is an ABA Journal series profiling exceptional ABA members. If you know members who do unique and important work, you can nominate them for this series by emailing [email protected].

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