July 13, 2020

ABA honors young lawyers from Texas, Montana with inaugural award for access-to-justice work

CHICAGO, July 13, 2020 — Two relatively new lawyers are being honored for their innovative and exceptional achievements on behalf of their clients and for advancing access to justice as part of the 100th anniversary of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID).

The SCLAID Centennial Access to Justice Award honors civil legal aid and public defense practices and is intended to spotlight the exemplary and creative work across the nation by the next generation of leaders in those fields. The standing committee created the award, which carries a scholarship component to defray student loan expenses, to focus on the contributions and promise that young lawyers bring to their work and commitment to the access-to-justice community.

The inaugural winners are Amalia Beckner, an assistant public defender in the Felony Trial Division of the Harris County (Texas) Public Defender’s Office in Houston, and Kallie Dale-Ramos, a staff attorney for the Montana Health Justice Partnership, a statewide medical-legal partnership at Montana Legal Services Association.

Beckner, in addition to representing clients, started a nationally recognized book club in 2018 in the Harris County Jail for women in a maximum-security unit, meeting every two weeks in the jail to discuss works of fiction and nonfiction. The project, featured in an ABA Journal article, was inspired by the recognition that education programs make jails safer and reduce rates of recidivism when people reenter society. In two years, the innovative approach to rehabilitation has demonstrated positive results for the participating women inmates.

She earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 2014, graduating from the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. While in law school, Beckner interned in the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office and participated in criminal defense and parole clinics that ignited her passion for public defense. In 2015, she became the first lawyer hired directly out of law school by the Harris County Public Defender’s Office.

Dale-Ramos provides advice, limited legal services and representation for patients of community healthcare centers, covering more than 140,000 square miles. Her work focuses on bridging the justice gap for rural Montanans who have civil legal issues in the areas of family law, housing law, public benefits, education access, employment law, consumer protection and debt issues. With less than a year of practicing law at legal services, she went to work building the innovative Montana Health Justice Partnership. The project is the first medical-legal partnership in the U.S. to align with a state-wide primary care association to specifically target rural communities and was created in partnership with four community health centers and the Montana Primary Care Association.

Dale-Ramos earned her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. While at UT, she represented clients during immigration proceedings and served as a human rights law scholar at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. Earlier, she was a legal fellow at the Indian Law Resource Center in Helena, Mont., advocating for legal reforms to increase tribal sovereignty in cases of violence against women.

For further information on both honorees and the SCLAID Centennial Access to Justice Award, please click here.

(Photographs of the awardees are available upon request to bill.choyke@americanbar.org.)

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