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Invested in public interest

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Three students earn fellowships to help women and children in L.A. and immigrants at the
border

By Julie Riggot
 
USC Gould has a long and rich history in public interest law, producing outstanding nonprofit
and government lawyers and building Los Angeles’ public interest community. The Legal Aid
Foundation of Los Angeles was founded at USC in 1929 and the Western Center on Law &
Poverty by attorneys and legal scholars from USC, UCLA and Loyola Law School in 1967.
Several other important public interest organizations, including Mental Health Advocacy
Services Inc. and the Wage Justice Center, were established by Gould alumni.
 
From left, Class of 2020 students Rosie Frihart-Lusby, Casey Mangan and Courtney Mendoza have been awarded fellowships enabling them to pursue public service and public interest work after graduation.
“But that history is not as widely known as it should be,” says Professor of the Practice of Law Clare Pastore, a leader in California’s public interest community and co-author of Poverty Law: Policy & Practice, the leading poverty law textbook. Her many honors include being named a Wasserstein Fellow by Harvard University.
 
Dean [Andrew] Guzman has made it a priority to place more attention on our rich tradition of
public service and public interest work and to support students interested in that career path,” she says. Two recent initiatives have boosted those efforts: the Public Interest Scholars program — which offers a higher aid package, extra summer funding and early access to mentor programs — and the Public Interest Law certificate.
 
Demonstrating Gould’s leadership in the area, three Class of 2020 students were selected for prestigious fellowships in public interest law for 2020-2022. Rosie Frihart-Lusby and Courtney Mendoza were selected for Equal Justice Works fellowships. Casey Mangan was selected for an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellowship.
 
After Frihart-Lusby’s coursework and participation in Professor Lisa Klerman’s Mediation Clinic, where she worked with parents involved in the dependency system through family mediations, she says she feels aptly prepared for her fellowship. Partnering with the Children’s Law Center of California, the organization that represents all children involved in the dependency system in Los Angeles County, she will act as the regional center advocate for
children with developmental disabilities.
 
“Public interest law is important to me because it is important to everyone — we as a society are only as good as how we treat our most vulnerable citizens,” says Frihart-Lusby, who learned that “the poor need a voice” through her work as a fourth grade teacher at a school serving a primarily indigent population.
 
Frihart-Lusby, executive senior editor of the Southern California Law Review, is graduating debt-free thanks to a scholarship from USC and a Public Interest Law Foundation grant that allowed her to work pro bono last summer.
 
With help from Pamela Marx (JD 1978) at Mental Health Advocacy Services Inc., which is headed by Jenny Farrell (JD 2011), Mendoza designed her fellowship project partnering with an L.A. County medical program that provides home visits by a nurse to low-income pregnant women. MHAS is also hosting Mendoza for the fellowship.
 
“Those nurses are finding that women with mental health disabilities need legal services,” she says. “I will be starting a legal pilot where I will work in collaboration with those nurses to provide legal advocacy to young families for health, housing and food stability.” She will collect outcome data over two years in the hopes that the county will maintain funding for legal services within this program beyond her fellowship.
 
“This project is a dream job because it is a culmination of my passion for why I went to law school,” Mendoza says. “Public interest law is the most meaningful and effective way I can help people who really need it the most with my law degree.”
 
Mangan will be working for the Innovation Law Lab in El Paso, Texas, representing clients in immigration detention centers in both bond and removal hearings. He will also join the El Paso Immigrant Collaborative in its efforts to create more systemic change for immigrants held in detention centers.
 
While teaching Spanish to recently resettled refugees in Spain before law school, Mangan says he witnessed “the drastic change in outlook and mindset in people who had found someplace safe from persecution ... I wanted to help people make that transition legally, to live somewhere they can do all the things we take for granted.”
 
Mangan, who participated in the USC Immigration Clinic and served on the executive board for the Public Interest Law Foundation, says, “Students and professors are interested and invested in pro bono at USC Gould, and there are opportunities to gain a lot of experience.”
 
Rebecca Taylor (JD 2019), who received the Immigrant Justice Corps Fellowship last year, was Gould’s first recipient. She is a fellow at Human Rights First, which focuses on representing refugees in both affirmative and defensive asylum proceedings. “We see clients from every country, every culture and with every type of asylum claim,” she says.
 
This is the first year that two Gould students have earned Equal Justice Works fellowships, adding to the 13 previous Gould fellows, including the Hon. Kimberley Baker Guillemet (JD 2005) of the Los Angeles County Superior Court and Suma Mathai (JD 2000).
 
Mathai divided her fellowship between Break the Cycle and the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law. She educated thousands of middle and high school students across L.A. County about domestic violence, gave one-on-one counsel and advice, and represented teens in court for restraining orders and family law cases. The Buhai Center kept her on after the fellowship, and she still volunteers. She is currently interim managing attorney for Break the Cycle and a lecturer for both Gould and the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
 
At the Buhai Center, Mathai worked with Rachel Kronick Rothbart, who now, as Gould’s director of career services, brings her in for mock interviews. “The people who are fellows continue to stay connected to the school and help other fellows,” she says. All three of this year’s recipients expressed enthusiastic thanks for Rothbart’s support and guidance through not only the fellowships but also summer internships and other post-grad options.
 
Fellowships are important for building a lifelong cohort and gaining entry into the field, says Pastore, who worked at the Western Center on Law & Poverty as one of the first Skadden Fellows and then as staff attorney for 14 years. “Fellowships really do start people’s careers.”

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