Every fall, Fordham Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice hosts its annual awards and benefit reception to honor members of the Fordham Law School community who have made a significant contribution to public service.
“We recognize an extraordinary group of individuals who truly exemplify Fordham Law School’s motto, ‘In the Service of Others,’” said Feerick Center Executive Director Dora Galacatos of the annual event.
On October 26, the Center brought the ceremony online, including a video presentation featuring in-depth information on several of the Center’s initiatives. They include the Center’s work supporting the NY State Attorney Emeritus Program, the CLARO Programs (legal services for New Yorkers in consumer debt cases), Educational Equity Initiatives (helping middle school students apply for high school programs and related advocacy), and the Feerick Center Immigration Justice Project.
“They are people who have great legal acumen, but they’re also people of great care and concern for the human family, and in these extraordinary times, their extraordinary character matters more than ever,” noted Fordham University President Fr. Joseph M. McShane in his remarks. He addressed the honorees directly, noting, “Your devotion continues to make our society better. And by that I mean, you helped to ensure that the law serves everyone at all strata of society.”
Former Dean John D. Feerick presented the George J. Mitchell Lifetime Public Service Award to Robert A. Ferris ’66 and Evelyn Jarvis Ferris, who have both committed much of their personal lives to philanthropy, especially focusing on literacy in at-risk communities and support for the homeless.
Fordham Law Dean Matthew Diller also commended the honorees, remarking, “They are all truly exemplary Fordham law school community members… Each and every one we are recognizing today has honored the law school by achieving acclaim, attaining impeccable reputations in their respective fields, and most importantly, demonstrating a deep commitment to civic engagement, philanthropy, and efforts to the greater good. In short, the world is a better place because of each of them.” Diller presented the Life of Commitment Award posthumously to Honorable Deborah A. Batts, the first openly LGBTQ federal judge and the first tenured Black faculty member at Fordham Law School.
Batts’ wife, Dr. Gwen Zornberg, accepted the award, which as of this year is now renamed in Batts’ honor. “She was an icon and a fierce trailblazer, who, in the words of our chambers family and in the words of the press, transcended racial bias and white supremacy, as well as patriarchal heteronormative values,” said Zornberg in her heartfelt remarks. “I want to humbly thank the Feerick Center for Social Justice for honoring her loving memory with this award and permanently renaming it to honor her legacy.” Many of Batts’ colleagues on the bench attended the online ceremony.
Next, Fordham Law Alumni Association President Palmina Fava ’97 presented the Spirit of Service Award to Sylvia Fung Chin ’77, partner/of counsel at White & Case and adjunct associate professor at Fordham, for her pro bono and philanthropic work focused on the financial and nonprofit sectors.
Charles K. O’Neill ’72 also received the Spirit of Service Award, presented by Thomas Hall ’80. O’Neill is of counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP and currently devotes his practice entirely to pro bono matters. “Fordham was a special place for me as a student, and still is,” he recalled. “And the school’s motto, In the Service of Others, instilled in me and many others the recognition of the obligation to do good for those less fortunate.”
Mary Ellen L. Kris ’76 received the James F. Gill Spirit of Hope Award, presented to her by classmate Charles M. Carberry ’76. Kris, a United Methodist deaconess, works with Global Ministries and Ministry With the Poor to address the church’s response to poverty and injustice. In accepting her commendation, she lauded the Feerick Center for its inspiration and advocacy, saying, “It’s been written, ‘It only takes a spark to get a fire going.’ Thank you, Feerick Center, for lighting that spark.”
Karuna Patel, deputy director of the Feerick Center, presented the Champion of Justice to Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP for the firm’s robust pro bono immigration work, including sponsoring a full-time fellow at the City Bar Justice Center, and extensive work with families in detention centers at the border. Barbara Camacho, pro bono manager, accepted the award on behalf of the firm, and two of Fragomen’s leaders—Scott J. FitzGerald ’92, managing partner of the Boston office, and Michael F. Turansick ’82, senior counsel—were also honored individually for their immigration-related advocacy. “The firm has had a transformative impact on our communities, both directly and through partnerships with local organizations,” noted Patel.
Throughout the evening, the vital nature of the Center’s programs was a consistent theme, given their work with vulnerable populations, from New Yorkers in dire financial straits to immigrants facing fast-tracked deportation at the United States border. In thanking the attendees for their support, Dean Feerick reminded them, “The Center’s work has never been more urgent than now.”