June 14, 2018

ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division announces 2018 award recipients

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2018 — The American Bar Association Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division (GPSLD) has chosen the recipients of its 2018 Dorsey, Hodson and Nelson Awards.  The annual awards are for outstanding work in the government and public sector.

The awards will be presented at the General E. E. Anderson Awards Reception on Friday, Aug. 3, from 3:30 - 5 p.m. at the Renaissance Chicago Hotel (Cloud Gate Ballroom 5) during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The Dorsey Award honors an outstanding public defender or legal aid lawyer. The Hodson Award recognizes an outstanding government or public sector law office. The Nelson Award recognizes the outstanding contributions to the ABA by an individual government or public sector lawyer.

Janet M. Coulter, GPSLD chair, says of this year’s winners: “These national award winners represent public service at its best. Public lawyers across the country work hard to improve people’s lives and represent the needy. We are so happy to highlight their outstanding achievements.”

The recipients are:

Dorsey Award:

Deborah Katz Levi is the director of Special Litigation, Baltimore City Felony Trial Division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Levi has worked to repair confidence in Baltimore City’s criminal justice system after the Freddie Gray incident, the findings that led to the U.S. Department of Justice and Baltimore entering a consent decree and the criminal conviction of eight Baltimore City police officers. Levi seeks transparency in the criminal justice system through the disclosure of discoverable Baltimore Police Officers’ Internal Affairs Department records. Her work with the Baltimore City Police Department to create a streamlined discovery process ensures that criminal defendants’ rights are protected.

Hodson Award:

The Military Commissions Defense Organization (MCDO) provides zealous representation for detainees accused of terrorism and war crimes and advocates for the application of fundamental Constitutional guarantees to the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. MCDO lawyers have experienced extraordinary challenges including: establishing functioning attorney-client relations due to cultural and language barriers; communicating with clients located in another country and who are subject to strict government policies regarding communicating with counsel; and litigating lengthy, complex trials including many capital cases, involving millions of pages of discovery and defense investigations in locations across the world. The work of the MCDO defense team has resulted in a significant number of dismissals and legal victories regarding the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, the Ex Post Facto Clause and the government’s burden of proof in establishing jurisdiction in Guantanamo Bay.

Nelson Award:

Denise R. Avant, a visually impaired lawyer and former Cook County Illinois assistant public defender, began her service to the ABA in 2012 as a member of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. She currently serves as a liaison to the Commission from the ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity. In 2017, Avant was appointed to serve in the ABA House of Delegates, the policy making body of the association. Avant has worked her entire career to ensure that disadvantaged people had a voice in our justice system. A highlight of her work includes her involvement in producing the video “Hidden Injustice: Toward a Better Defense.” It advised America’s public defenders and defense attorneys on the impact of implicit bias and the necessary steps to combat it. Avant is currently President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois.

The GPSLD’s National Awards are designed to recognize the extraordinary achievements of government lawyers and to inform the public about the outstanding work performed and the positive impact made by our nation’s public lawyers. Winners are selected based on their professional accomplishments and their role in ensuring access to justice.

The 9,300 member ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division provides programs, publications, and online resources specifically designed for government, public sector and military lawyers, as well as interested law students.

There is no charge for media covering this event. To register, please contact Betsy Adeboyejo at 202-662-1039 or Betsy.Adeboyejo@americanbar.org.

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