*Reprinted with permission from the Utah State Bar.
Students, teachers, legal professionals and citizens from around the Wasatch Front gathered to celebrate Law Day in downtown Salt Lake City on May 1. The theme for the annual event was “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.”
Several S.J. Quinney College of Law alumni —and one current student —were honored at a luncheon.
The festivities, designed to celebrate the rule of law in our society, began with a presidential proclamation from President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. In 1961, Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as Law Day. Each year since then the president has issued a Law Day statement. Utah’s governor has traditionally issued a proclamation as well.
As part of the day the Utah State Bar and affiliated sections and groups presented a variety of awards honoring legal professionals and others who serve in the community. In addition, Utah Law Related Education presented awards for winners of its mock trial competition, in which more the 700 students competed to effectively “try” a “case.
The 2019 Awards included the following:
SCOTT M. MATHESON AWARD: Albert N. Pranno
In 1991, the Law-Related Education and Law Day Committee of the Utah State Bar created the Scott M. Matheson Award to commemorate Matheson’s contribution to law-related education in Utah and to recognize annually individuals who have made outstanding contributions to law- related education for youth in the state. Albert N. Pranno received the award this year. Pranno has been in private practice since graduating from the S. J. Quinney College of Law in 2003. He also serves as a pro tem judge, a volunteer at the Matheson Legal Aid Clinic, and a mentor in the Supreme Court Mentor Program. His introduction to Utah Law Related Education was in 2001 when he judged the first of many mock trials. Since then, he has volunteered to judge multiple mock trials every year. A long-time teacher in the mock trial program has this to say about Pranno: “When you are in ‘Judge’ Pranno’s courtroom, you know it will be a great experience. He allows students to argue their objections. He listens to them instead of just making a quick ruling, which many judges do. I have watched him encourage and empower beginning student attorneys, asking them questions and interacting with them, so they learn how to stand behind their objections. On behalf of the hundreds of mock trial students, we are so grateful for the gift of his time, his expertise, his humor, and his teaching.” Said Pranno of his mock trial experience with the students: “Volunteering as a judge for mock trials has been very rewarding. Watching kids learn and experience what they will hear so much about in their lives, right before your eyes, is really amazing. I always tell kids to trust themselves, no matter what the challenge, and I hope they take that self-confidence with them through their many future walks of life.”
YOUNG LAWYER OF THE YEAR: Dani Cepernich
Cepernich served a judicial clerkship for U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell and Tenth Circuit Judge Monroe McKay. During her district court clerkship she worked on a variety of matters, including complex civil litigation, civil rights claims, insurance disputes, and criminal cases. Cepernich not only observed court proceedings on a daily basis, but was responsible for the work on several trials, including a five-week criminal RICO prosecution. During her time with the Tenth Circuit, she worked on several appeals, which included writing drafts of both published and unpublished opinions.
Cepernich is a member her firm’s appellate practice Group, which assists clients with appealing civil and criminal matters. The Appellate Practice Group also prepares an Appellate Highlights article for the Utah Bar Journal. This article, which is published six times a year, highlights notable cases decided by the Utah Supreme Court, Utah Court of Appeals, and Tenth Circuit.
YOUNG LAWYER OF THE YEAR: Jennifer Springer
Springer earned her B.S. in sociology from the University of Utah and her J.D. in 2014 from the S.J. Quinney College of Law. She began working with Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC) as a law student clinical intern at RMIC’s University of Utah Innocence Clinic. She continued her work at RMIC after being awarded the Spurgeon Public Interest Fellowship and as a Teaching Assistant through the 2013- 14 academic year.
Springer joined the staff of RMIC in 2014 as an assistant adjunct professor of law. As RMIC’s managing attorney she oversees all cases in investigation and litigation, and supervises law students participating in the Innocence Clinic. Springer is licensed to practice law in Utah and Nevada.
LIBERTY BELL AWARD: Jessica Xaiz Mann
In 2010, Xaiz Mann took a position at Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association. Xaiz Mann was the lead social work representative working with those with mental illness. She was trained as a mitigation specialist to work on capital homicide cases as part of a multidisciplinary team. In 2014, Xaiz Mann accepted a position with the Department of Veterans Affairs as Veterans Outreach Specialist. In this position she has been an integral part in the creation and development of Utah’s 3rd and 4th District Veterans Treatment Courts, interfacing with law enforcement, Justice and Federal Veterans Courts, and has taken a dedicated role in the Utah Veterans Legal Clinic and Wills Clinic in partnership with the Young Lawyers Division of the Utah State Bar. Xaiz Mann recently accepted the position of Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator and oversees VJO program efforts throughout the State of Utah, Southeast Idaho, and Eastern Nevada.
LIBERTY BELL AWARD: Rocky Mountain innocence Center
The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC) is a non-profit organization working to correct and prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people. RMIC is the only organization in the region providing innocence investigation and litigation services – and they provide them entirely for free. RMIC’s work in preventing wrongful convictions involves education and train- ing for key justice officials, such as prosecutors, police officers, defense attorneys, and judges, as well as collaborating with regional and national stakeholders on justice reforms. Learn more at: https://rminnocence.org.
PRO BONO PUBLICO AWARDS
These awards recognize those who have provided or enabled legal services, free of charge, for Utah’s most vulnerable citizens; people living in poverty, individuals with disabilities, veterans, seniors, minorities and victims of domestic violence. While the obstacles to equal access to justice continue to mount, the willingness of attorneys to help meet the legal needs of the indigent in their communities is important to those in need of service.
PRO BONO PUBLICO YOUNG LAWYERS OF THE YEAR
Eli McCann: In April 2017, McCann took over an excessive force case filed by an inmate pro se. McCann handled discovery, three summary judgment motions, briefings and arguments – taking the case on a provisional briefing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. McCann continued the case on behalf of the inmate’s children, following his death. In total, McCann logged 543.7 hours on this case until completion in October 2018. In addition to all this, McCann is a team lead, recruiting volunteer attorneys for the Tuesday Night Bar clinics.
Tamara Rasch: Rasch is always willing to take on the pro bono cases that many volunteer attorneys will not: protective orders. Her efforts make an enormous difference to the clients who are in desperate need of protection from abuse. Rasch also takes on an impressive number of other cases. In the last five years, Rasch has volunteered for 18 pro bono cases with Utah Legal Services alone.
PRO BONO PUBLICO YOUNG LAW STUDENTS OF THE YEAR
Britney Mortensen: Mortsensen, a 3L at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, got her start as the Pro Bono Initiative Harland Student Director where she taught refugee citizenship classes. Currently, she is in charge of the Community Legal Clinic in Ogden. She served as president of the Student Immigration Law Association in 2017, and the vice-president of the Minority Law Caucus. She received the CALI Award in 2017 and the Outstanding Achievement Award in Immigration Law in 2017. Mortensen will start her U.S. Department of Justice law clerk position in September.
Nick Hafen: Hafen has served as J. Reuben Clark Law School’s president of Public Interest Law Forum. He is also actively engaged with organizations in the community to enable law students to perform more pro bono service. Most recently, Hafen participated in the Third District Debt Collection Pro Se Calendar and the 2018 Equal Justice Conference in San Diego.
PRO BONO PUBLICO LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR
Dorsey & Whitney: Dorsey & Whiten is a leader in the pro bono community. The firm encourages their associates to perform 50 hours of pro bono service per year. Dorsey & Whitney has collaborated with the Pro Bono Commission to serve community members most in need. In 2015, Dorsey & Whitney began work with Catholic Community Service on the Asylum Pro Bono Program where attorneys assist individuals seeking asylum from dangerous regions. In addition, Dorsey’s attorneys are actively engaged in resolving housing issues and continue to be advocates for the underrepresented.
MOCK TRIAL COMPETITION:
In February and March 2019, more than 700 junior and senior high school students across Utah tried a civil case in which a minor, Savea Tuvale, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, was pepper sprayed by a school resource officer as the child reached in his backpack for what was later determined to contain a non-functional model of a gun. The officer handcuffed Savea and took him to the principal’s office. After an hour, he was transported to the police station where he later was released in his guardian’s care. Savea didn’t return to Emigration High School; instead, he returned to his home in Pago Pago, on the island of Tutuila, which is part of American Samoa.
Students impressed more than 250 judges, attorneys, and community representatives with their presentations in over 90 mock trials held in Salt Lake valley courtrooms. The Utah State Bar, Utah Bar Foundation, and Utah Law Related Education honor this year’s mock trial champions. Top courtroom artist and top courtroom journalist were also honored. The winners were:
WEST HIGH SCHOOL
Andrea Oltra Alonzo
Ciara Khor Brogan
Coach: Jacob Taber
Atty. Coaches: Edwin Wall, Sadѐ Turner