Sylvia K. Novinsky award: Charlotte Stewart
Charlotte’s commitment to pro bono, both in doing projects and facilitating them, is unequaled in the class of 2014—and its not even close. Working on over 30 different projects throughout her time at UNC law, Charlotte has logged over 500 pro bono hours. She has advocated for veterans, connected the homeless with important resources, observed lawful protests, and on and on—one of the people who nominated her for this award stated simply, “She does everything.”
However, Charlotte’s commitment to pro bono is not limited to doing projects. She has been a constant cheerleader to encourage students and faculty at the law school, as well private practice attorneys, to do pro bono—one of her peers noted, “Her enthusiasm, dedication, and zeal for public interest and pro bono pushes others to give back to the community.”
3L Student of the Year: Laura Ackerman
Laura has shown her dedication to pro bono by going above and beyond to serve criminal defendants, particularly those facing the death penalty. She has dedicated 125 hours in this year alone, working with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and the Wake County Public Defender’s Office. With the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, she has traveled out-of-state and on weekends to visit death row clients. She has been praised by her peers as a “role model” and “a great example of how to make the most of your 3L year by continuing a strong commitment to pro bono and by committing to a cause she cares about so deeply.”
2L Student of the Year: Evan Benz
Evan’s contributions to pro bono have been passionate, diverse, and left an indelible impact on our community. Evan has logged 120 hours during this academic year alone. He has worked with the Center for Civil Rights to help the legal needs of Moral Monday protestors, aided citizens of Hoke County in improving their water quality, and contributed to the Hispanic/Latino Law Students Association Naturalization Clinic. In addition, Evan has worked to launch a new pro bono project with the Education Law and Policy Society, a project that will allow other UNC Law students to advocate on behalf of students and parents.
1L Student of the Year: Corey Frost
Corey has reached, and surpassed, 200 hours of pro bono work as a 1L. He has worked in a variety of contexts, including the Healthcare Navigator Project, the Federal Public Defender’s office, and the Prison Policy Initiative. His involvement with the Pro Bono Program has also served to impact and motivate his peers. He participated in Fall Breakthrough and served as one of the Brandis Team Captains in this year’s 1L College Pro Bono Competition. As one of his nominating peers said, “He is the reason that Brandis college has been so involved in pro bono . . . . He is always making it his personal goal to help and motivate anyone that wants to get involved in pro bono work at UNC.
Alumnus of the Year: Tom Berkau
Since the beginning of his 40 year career, Tom Berkau has served his community as a small town lawyer, constantly representing Johnston and Harnett county residents on a pro bono basis in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina and his local bar association.
Tom began practicing in Smithfield, North Carolina, and has donated thousands of hours of his time to pro bono clients since he was admitted to the North Carolina State Bar in 1974. Along with litigating his own pro bono cases, he frequently works to recruit new volunteer attorneys and has been instrumental in Johnston County Bar's annual "Ask a Lawyer" event. He also performs all title work and closings for Habitat for Humanity of Johnston County on a pro bono basis.
Additionally, Tom has served on the North Carolina Bar Association's Public Service Advisory Committee, the Organizational Committee of the Johnston County Pro Bono Program, and the Board of Directors of Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Faculty Member of the Year: Professor Beth Posner
Professor Posner is often out of sight in the law school, diligently working in the clinic offices or the courthouse rather than the classroom. Yet, her impact is seen all across our community. In this year alone, she has helped two student organizations form new, sustainable projects to address the unmet legal needs of domestic violence victims and pregnant teenagers. She has also continued her commitment as the founder and supervisor of the Divorce Project, which helps students execute no contest divorces on behalf of low-income community members.
Apart from her work at the law school, she also works to educate relevant community partners on various areas of the law and ensures that clinical programs, legal non-profit service providers, and community agencies all work together to provide quality advocacy for their clients. Her nominators described her as “a constant source of guidance”, “a driving force”, and “the model of what she encourages all of her students to be.”
Student Organization of the Year: Domestic Violence Action Project (DVAP)
DVAP has worked thoughtfully and efficiently to respond to a critical unmet legal need in our area, has built connections with community partners, and has provided consistent and accessible support to victims of domestic violence. This year, DVAP launched the Ex Parte Project, which places students in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on a daily basis ready to help victims of domestic violence. DVAP volunteers help domestic violence victims take the steps necessary to obtain an Ex Parte Domestic Violence Protective Order. The presence of DVAP volunteers within local sheriffs’ offices demonstrates to the community that the law school recognizes the needs of domestic violence victims and is willing to provide support and advocacy. Plus, the strong organizational structure of this project and its collaboration with outside partners gives it the potential to be sustainable for years to come.