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Student Scholars 2012-2013

USC Gould School of Law
The Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics supports wide-ranging research by the Saks Institute Student Scholars. The institute educates these future legal, medical and public policy leaders to employ cutting-edge research methodology and to serve the larger cause of social justice. The Scholars conduct research on the institute's topic of the year and present work that is published in academic journals. To date, 25 student papers have been published in three journals.

Jessica Burns

Jessica Burns is a second-year student at USC Gould School of Law and staff member of the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal. She previously volunteered to work with Los Angeles' homeless population. Burns is particularly interested in finding ways to de-stigmatize mental illness, rehabilitating offenders with mentally illness and facilitating their reintegration into communities.

Ryan Essex

Ryan Essex is a third-year psychology Ph.D. student in USC's Brain and Cognitive Science program. As part of the Brain and Creativity Institute, he uses functional MRI to study the brain processes underlying sensory integration and conscious perception. Essex, who received a B.A. in Neuroscience from USC, is interested in all aspects of the psychology of consciousness. He joined the Saks Institute to investigate possibilities for extrapolating psychological research into policy.

Joel Frost-Tift

Joel Frost-Tift is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. He earned a B.A. in government and history at Cornell University. Before coming to USC, he worked for several years as a part-time teaching assistant for students with developmental disabilities, such as autism. Recently, he has worked as a legal intern at Disability Advocates, Inc, a public interest firm that represents people with disabilities, including both developmental and mental health disorders. Frost-Tift is hoping to expand his interest in mental health at the Saks Institute with a particular focus on the effect of mental health disorders on juveniles in the legal system.

Blanca Hernandez

Blanca Hernandez is a third-year student at USC Gould School of Law. She received a B.A. in government and Spanish literature from Cornell University, and is currently focusing on constitutional law. As managing editor of the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice (RLSJ), she is proud to facilitate the journal's annual Saks Institute issue. Hernandez hopes to contribute to the Saks Institute's legal scholarship on the criminalization of mental health. RLSJ will publish her student note on First Amendment obscenity doctrine in 2012. Hernandez's goal is to pursue a career in academia, w

Liat Kriegel

Liat Kriegel is a Provost Fellow and second year doctoral student in social work at USC. She earned a B.A. in religious studies from New York University and her Masters in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to enrolling in the doctoral program, she was a senior research coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, where she managed multiple research studies on the intersection of the behavioral health and criminal justice systems. Kriegel has clinical experience at the women's jail in Philadelphia, where she worked with female prisoners with mental illness. Her research interests include the intersection of the mental health and criminal justice systems, and more specifically the role a community plays in the re-entry of ex-prisoners with mental illness.

Evan Langinger

Evan Langinger is a second-year student at USC Gould School of Law. He earned a B.A. in philosophy at UC Berkeley, where he became chiefly interested in ethics and theory of action. He has tutored low-income students and advocated for people with mentally illness as a law clerk for Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. This past summer, he interned with Los Angeles County Counsel in the Los Angeles Superior Court's mental health court. He worked on LPS conservatorship matters and wrote memoranda for the Los Angeles County Public Guardian. Langinger looks forward to researching and writing about juvenile competency to stand trial and the use of judicial proceedings as mental health therapy

Susie Morris

Susie Morris is a third-year psychiatric resident-in-training at USC. Her interest in medical ethics began as an undergraduate at Smith College where she majored in philosophy. While attending Northwestern University Medical School, Morris completed a masters degree in Medical Humanities and Bioethics, where she further developed an interest in psychiatric ethics, the notion of rational suicide and patient narrative. She hopes to pursue a career in academic psychiatry and, hopefully, play a role in ethics education for medical students and residents. For Morris, the Saks Institute is the perfect opportunity to research and write - two activities that have been difficult to pursue since starting residency. She read Saks' memoire, "The Center Cannot Hold," early in her intern year of residency, and is inspired by Saks' work and contributions to the field. Morris is honored to be a part of the Institute - and knows this experience will serve to make her a more informed educator and ethicist as well as a more empathic clinician and patient advocate.

Chao Qi

Chao Qi is a second-year student at USC Gould School of Law. He received a B.S. in biology from the University of Arizona and his Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His graduate research focused on identifying molecular mechanisms that underlie stress, anxiety-related disorders, depression and specific markers that predispose individuals to develop psychopathology later in life. His graduate experiences in psychiatry created an interest and respect for individuals with mental health disorders. He is currently representing juvenile "life without parole" clients as part of USC Gould's Post-Conviction Justice Project. At the Saks Institute, Qi hopes to condense his professional experiences into tackling the question of how the legal system should punish youth and adolescent offenders, given their diminished mental capacities for decision-making and extraneous circumstances in life.

David Smart

David Smart is a second-year student at USC Gould School of Law. He is a graduate of Princeton University, where he majored in history and earned a certificate in African-American studies. His interest in the intersection of criminal justice and public health was sparked by his experiences as a prisoner re-entry fellow with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a nonprofit based in Newark, NJ. Tasked with coordinating various services as part of the Newark Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, Smart served recently released ex-offenders struggling with homelessness, educational deficits and various health issues. He also interned for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of Legal Affairs to study and advocate legal reforms addressing America's War on Drugs. As a Saks Scholar, he plans to study the impact of California's Realignment Policy on the delivery of mental health services inside California's network of county jails.

Mona Sobhani

Mona Sobhani is a Ph.D. candidate at the Brain and Creativity Institute in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at USC. Her current work focuses on the relationship between psychopathic traits and the function and structure of the fronto-limbic neural circuit. Her other research interests include emotion regulation, impulse control and neural connectivity in psychopathology. Sobhani is especially interested in the implications that new neuroscientific findings have for the current legal system, and the ethical issues that arise from the intersection of neuroscience and law. She is happy to be a part of the Saks Institute where she will have the opportunity to research reform methods that the United States legal system may implement to handle offenders with mentally illness.

Aurora Thome

Aurora Thome is a second-year student at USC Gould School of Law. She received a B.A. in human development from the University of Chicago. After coming to USC, she worked as a law clerk at Mental Health Advocacy Services, where she advocated for the rights of people with mental and developmental disabilities. Thome currently works with the Post-Conviction Justice Project, where she represents women serving indeterminate life-term sentences in California. Her research at the Saks Institute focuses on parole and civil commitment hearings for people with mental health issues, and the various requirements that defendants show insight as these hearings.

Aness Webster

Aness Webster is a fourth-year Ph.D student in the USC Philosophy Department. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy as well as a law degree from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is interested in normative concepts that are used in the law, specifically tort and criminal law where issues of responsibility are prominent. Webster is particularly interested in the role that intention plays in the law and how different notions of intention may be related to different accounts of agency and responsibility. She is excited about being part of the Saks Institute where she hopes to explore the insanity defense and uncover what kind of neurological and psychological evidence is relevant to aspects of the insanity defense.