S.J. Quinney College of Law alumni were honored for outstanding work in several categories at this month’s Utah Minority Bar Association 2015 Scholarship and Awards Banquet. The awards recognize firms, attorneys, and judges who promote diversity and demonstrate commitment to underserved populations, especially within the legal community.
Some of the S.J. Quinney College of Law alumni who received awards at this year’s banquet include:
Honoree of the Year
Judge Brooke C. Wells received this award, which goes to a lawyer or other individual who has made a special accomplishment toward the mission and purpose of UMBA.
Wells is a federal magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, appointed on June 4, 2003. She graduated from the University of Utah with an undergraduate degree in political science in 1973, and finished law school at the U’s S. J. Quinney School of Law in 1977.
She worked in Texas briefly, before returning to Utah in1979, where she spent the next 15 years in Salt Lake City representing criminal defendants as an attorney for the Utah Legal Defender’s Office. In 1994, U.S. Attorney Scott Matheson appointed Wells as Assistant U.S. Attorney, and she began her career as a legal prosecutor. Wells held the position of Chief of the Violent Crimes Section for eight years until she was appointed as a federal magistrate.
Wells has presided over two specialized federal court programs since 2008: RISE and and specialized drug court program. When it started, RISE (Reentry Independence through Sustainable Efforts), was the only program in the U.S. to have a specialized mental health court docket for people coming out of federal prison with severe mental illness. The mental health defendants attend counseling, take prescribed medications, and report to the court on a weekly basis as a part of their plea in abeyance agreements. The second program is a specialized drug court docket for re-entry for people with severe drug abuse problems.
Wells also chairs a state federal advisory board to attempt to identify and eliminate barriers to employment, where re-entering offenders can meet their obligations instead of returning to prison. She has shared her life story with many youth aspiring to work in the justice system, including the S.J. Quinney College of Law class of 2006.
Law Firm of the Year
Open Legal Services received this award, which to a law firm in Utah that has demonstrated achievement or dedication to objectives consistent with the mission and purpose of UMBA.
Open Legal Services has been making a name for itself since it founders, Shantelle Argyle and A. Daniel Spencer, who both graduated from the College of Law in 2013, decided to start the nonprofit focused on providing reasonably priced legal services.
The firm is designed “for clients who earn too much to qualify for free/pro-bono legal services, but also earn too little to afford a traditional private firm,” its website states. “ Our mission is to bridge the justice gap by providing affordable legal services to low and moderate income people. Such discounted services for clients with modest means are often called “low bono” legal services.”
In August, the ABA Journal named Open Legal Services as one of its 2015 legal rebels.
Five of the firm’s attorneys are S.J. Quinney of Law graduates, including Argyle; Spencer; Staci Visser (class of 2012); Nathaniel Garrabrandt (class of 2014) and Chase Ames (class of 2015).
Distinguished Lawyer of the Year
Trystan Smith received this award, which goes to a member of the Utah State Bar who has demonstrated achievement or dedication to objectives consistent with the mission and purpose of UMBA.
Smith, who graduated from the College of Law in 2007, is the managing attorney at State Farm’s claim litigation counsel office, Trystan Smith & Associates, where he focuses his practice on trial work. Smith represents State Farm and its insureds throughout Utah’s state and federal courts. Last year, Smith served as chair of CLC’s National Diversity and Inclusion committee.
Prior to joining State Farm, Mr. Smith was a shareholder and trial lawyer at Snow Christensen & Martineau in Salt Lake City, where he spent more than 11 years representing individual and corporate clients in civil and white collar criminal matters.
Smith was the first African-American shareholder in a major Utah law firm. Currently, he is the only African-American attorney to manage and operate a law firm in the state of Utah. He is a past-president of the Utah Minority Bar Association, past-chair of Utah’s Martin Luther King Human Right’s Commission, the 2010 Raymond S. Uno Award recipient, a former member of the Utah Supreme Court’s Ethics and Discipline Committee, a member of the Utah Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on the Rules of Civil Procedure, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, chair of the 2016 Spring Bar Convention, and an officer in the Salt Lake County Bar Association.
Congratulations to all who were honored!