Calhoun Family Fellows

Working for Equal Justice

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A fellowship program that immerses Seattle U law students in the fight for equal justice will commence a new cohort this summer. Six Calhoun Family Fellows will work on current issues relating to systemic racism and reparative justice with the potential to make a difference for clients and, quite possibly, transform society. The goal of the fellowship program is to develop committed lifetime advocates for equal justice.

According to School of Law Professor Bob Boruchowitz, J.D., faculty advisor to the Calhoun Family Fellows and a career public defender, “In many ways our legal system, from the most minor misdemeanor to the death penalty, has in part been designed to oppress black people and recognizing and undoing that is an enormous task. Much of what I focus on with the Calhoun Fellows is understanding the right to counsel and the impact lawyers can have on changing the criminal legal system for the better, while providing effective representation to individuals.”

Established by Jerry Calhoun, ’67, and his wife, Andrea, the Calhoun Family Fellowship program introduces law students to seasoned public interest lawyers, State Supreme Court justices, community activists, government representatives, police leaders and others entrusted with interpreting, advocating for and enforcing laws—all presenting different perspectives on how to accomplish reform in the legal community. Fellows advance their skills and training in promoting equal justice by assisting public interest attorneys and advocacy organizations with real cases, providing research, writing legal briefs and motions and performing other clinical work. New this year, the 2020 and 2021 fellows will work together to plan the 2022 Washington State Minority and Justice Commission Symposium that will focus on reparative justice.

“My cohort presented a memorandum on reparations to the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission based on our historical analysis of past harms to minority communities in Washington,” says Sam Sueoka, a 2020 fellow. “In it we proposed that the commission present an educational program on reparative justice as a 2022 Supreme Court Symposium. They voted to implement our proposal and to allow Professor Boruchowitz and the Calhoun Family Fellows to plan the event. We’re leaning toward a focus on how the courts can repair relationships with communities they have systemically harmed in Washington State. We want the courts to be accountable.”

Calhoun’s inspiration for establishing the fellowship program at Seattle U stems in part from the impact the university had on his life and from his connection with renowned public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Institute Stevenson founded in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy, a New York Times best-seller that was adapted as a major motion picture in 2019.

“Seattle U shaped in large measure who I am and how I got to where I am,” Calhoun says. “I learned that we have a responsibility to shape communities to do better, be better and reflect the American ethos of fairness, equality and opportunity. Bryan Stevenson’s work as an attorney and advocate has given voice and brought equal justice to many wrongfully convicted and incarcerated people. He inspired me to connect my experience at Seattle U to developing strong advocates for those in our community who have no voice. Seattle U law exemplifies the development of strong advocacy—zealous advocacy—and justice. Where better could I invest?”

Catherine Bentley, a 2019 fellow, is now a staff attorney at the Public Defender Association in Seattle.

“The Calhoun Family Fellowship gave me the opportunity to learn from the community organically and to work on creative legal arguments, both policy-wise and with direct representation,” she says. “It also exposed me to different careers where I could have an impact in rebuilding the criminal legal system from the inside out. Bob Boruchowitz’s impact on my life cannot be overstated. I count him as the most influential mentor in my life.”

Second-year law student Sueoka is considering becoming a public defender but keeping his options open as he explores all areas of criminal law. Through the Fellowship, he had the opportunity to meet and connect with Jeff Robinson and Twyla Carter, ’04, ’07 JD, who worked at the national ACLU, and who inspired Sueoka to apply for a summer internship there. Carter helped him prepare for the interview process and he was successful. Sueoka is excited to be interning with the ACLU legal team on their Criminal Law Reform Project.

“I think my biggest takeaway from the Calhoun fellowship experience is that Seattle/King County is an exciting place to be if you’re passionate about racial and economic justice,” he says. “After meeting so many people in our criminal legal system and learning about all the equal justice work being done here, I’ve become hopeful. Washington has the potential to lead the way in changing how we think about the criminal legal system.”

Professor Boruchowitz says that if there were funding to employ fellows year-round, the students could take on longer and more complex projects with the potential for greater impact. Developing a post-graduate fellowship would provide an opportunity for some fellows to engage in full-time advocacy for change and also help supervise the student fellows.

For Calhoun, the hope for the fellowship program “is to develop force multipliers, wherein each of our fellows will transfer their passion and what they take away from their experiences in the fellowship to the work they pursue, whether it be in the practice of law or policy making or policy influencing and that they will amplify outcomes where they’ve influenced justice.”

If you would like to support the Calhoun Family Fellowship program with a gift, click here and write “Calhoun Family Fellowship” in the indication box. More information on the fellowship program can be found here or contact Thad Teo, director of development, School of Law, teot@seattleu.edu.