Gary Bellow Public Service Award
Winners of the 2006 Gary Bellow Public Service Award are
Fern Fisher '78 and Stephan Sonnenberg '06.
The Gary Bellow Public Service Award was created in 2001 to recognize excellence in public interest work at HLS and to honor Professor Bellow. Gary Bellow was the founder and former faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Clinical Programs. Professor Ogletree said of Professor Bellow: he was a "creative scholar, a gifted teacher, an extraordinary advocate and visionary leader in the clinical legal education movement. His legal career is one that all can admire for the extraordinary depth and breadth of what he was able to accomplish."
The Gary Bellow Public Service Awards are given annually by the student body of Harvard Law School to a student and alumnus/a whose commitment to social justice makes us proud to be a part of the HLS community. The finalists were selected because of their commitment to public interest and their demonstration of how lawyers, and lawyers-to-be, can use litigation, education, and advocacy to promote social justice. Past honorees have worked in a wide variety of areas including civil rights, labor, education, human rights, and domestic violence. The winners are honored at reception in April.
2006 Award WinnersFern Fisher '78
Justice Fern A. Fisher, given her breadth of experience in the law and her commitment to the underrepresented, is well deserving of this honor. Fern has devoted her entire career to public service. She served as Deputy Director of Harlem Legal Services, Inc. and as an Assistant Attorney General of the New York State Department of Law. For four years, she provided pro bono legal services to Harlem-based community organizations as a project director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. In 1989, she was appointed Judge of the Housing Part of the Civil Court, and later, in 1990, was elected to the Civil Court where she served as Deputy Supervising Judge. Fern was elected in 1993 to the Supreme Court of the State of New York. After serving in both the City and the Matrimonial Parts of Supreme Court, in December 1996 she was appointed Administrative Judge in charge of the Civil Court of the City of New York which includes the Small Claims and Housing Courts.
Fern is a contributing author of Residential Landlord-Tenant Law in New York, a practice guide by Lawyers Cooperative Publishing. She served as the host of a series of television shows on housing issues for Crosswalk’s, a public service cable show. Fern is a founding member of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and is a member of Judicial Friends (an affiliate of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, a member of the executive committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and a former member of the executive committee of the New York County Lawyers Association. Fern also served as the Chair of the Housing Court (Judges) Disciplinary Committee and Chair of the Anti-Bias Committee of the New York County Supreme Court.
Fern’s accomplishments as the Administrative Judge, in charge of the busiest court in the State of New York, are an example of how of social justice can be served through the judiciary. Fern has worked tirelessly to improve access to justice in her court. As Administrative Judge, Fern has increased services offered by the court to self-represented litigants, who are the majority of the court’s users. Resource Centers house attorneys employed by the court who provide legal and procedural information to individuals without lawyers. Videotapes, various publications and a bi-lingual web site all developed by Fern provide information to litigants. An outdoor annual Community Law Day operates to provide legal and social services information to the public, while at the same time provides a designated community with a festive barbeque. Fern has designed and put in place a Volunteer Lawyers Program, a Guardian ad Litem Program and a Mediation Program. She assists the New York City Department of Aging with operating a Senior Citizen assigned counsel program. The most recent project of the Civil Court, The Housing Help Program was spearheaded and designed by Fern with the United Way of New York City. The Housing Help Program, which receives funding from the United Way of New York City and currently operates out of the Bronx Housing courthouse, is designed to provide legal and social service assistance via lawyers and social workers working in a team to prevent homelessness. The project is the first and only court-based homelessness prevention program in the country. In addition to legal assistance and social service assistance to prevent evictions of families from a specific South Bronx community, the program also provides long-term social services to families to prevent recidivism which often results in homelessness. To date, over 300 families have received assistance from the program.
Stephan Sonnenberg '06
Stephan Sonnenberg’s extraordinary dedication to the human rights and negotiation fields, his devotion to the work of the HLS Advocates for Human Rights, his commitment to working with students and faculty alike on a host of issues, and his unswerving loyalty to public service all make him an ideal candidate. The number of people whom Stephan has worked with, helped, guided, supervised, taught, or assisted is not only lengthy but includes everyone from undergraduates at Harvard College to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. His accomplishments are, in the end, balanced by remarkable humility and an unshakeable modesty that reflects his sincere desire to understand the consequences of our actions as human rights advocates and to analyze different choices of action and thought. While every field requires a body of individuals who are dedicated to their work and complete the tasks they are given, Stephan represents a different and unique breed: an absolute innovator. Never satisfied with the simple answer or with the unquestioned precedent, Stephan constantly searches for new ways of combining different methods or creating trans-disciplinary answers, always looking for new and creative ways to better answer the difficult cases and problems with which he constantly grapples.
Four years ago, Stephan helped to found the HLS Advocates for Human Rights, a group which serves as an umbrella organization for students interested in pursuing human rights advocacy in law school. The Advocates, which now boasts a membership of approximately 150, encompasses five regional working groups—Latin America, the U.S., Asia, Europe/Eurasia, and Africa—as well as a nascent Middle East group. Working closely with the Human Rights Program clinical faculty, the Advocates have participated in projects ranging from submission of briefs to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to research for briefs under the Alien Tort Statute in the U.S., to fact-finding missions in Haiti, Guyana, Cambodia, and elsewhere, followed by writing extensive human rights reports. It is no exaggeration to say that, since its inception, the Advocates has depended largely on Stephan’s various contributions. He has helped to write the major documents, overseen numerous projects, maintained a close relationship with the Human Rights Program staff, and—at times—essentially taken up residence in the Advocates office. In addition to co-founding the organization, he ran the Europe group and currently serves as the president. Using skills learned through his negotiating and conflict resolution work, Stephan created a “conflict map” of the Sudanese and Ugandan conflicts for the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. In order to refine and expand this map, he held a series of meetings between psychologists, conflict resolution experts, and lawyers over the fall of 2005, culminating in a conference with Chief Prosecutor Ocampo and faculty from Harvard and the Fletcher School. In addition to this innovative contribution, he has worked on a project relating to trauma and terror in Chechnya, numerous submissions to the European Court of Human Rights, and a variety of other timely human rights projects.
In addition to his substantive contributions to human rights, Stephan helped to organize the Advocates’ trainings for incoming 1Ls and Kennedy School students in the fall of 2004 and 2005. Over 100 students participated each year in a two-day intensive course in human rights law, ethics, and advocacy. This year, he has helped bring into being the newly formed College Advocates for Human Rights, a group similar to the HLS Advocates for the undergraduates at Harvard. He helped plan and execute a one-day training for the 55 students interested in this new venture and continues to support their work and guide the coordinators of the new organization. He has also acted as an advisor for 1Ls on summer traveling fellowships and just about anything else they could think to ask him. All of these actions demonstrate his continuing commitment not just to human rights work but to building a wider community of individuals committed to public interest lawyering. He has provided support, guidance, and inspiration for innumerable individuals at Harvard and the Fletcher School, despite the fact that his modesty often precludes widespread knowledge of everything he is constantly doing. Awarding Stephan the Gary Bellow Award would recognize his contributions to the Harvard community and to the human rights field as well as his ability to think and act simultaneously, balancing work and self-critique in the most constructive way possible.
The Gary Bellow Award is entirely student run and support by the following student organizations: Advocates 4 Education, American Constitution Society, Arts and Literature Law Society, Black Letter Law Journal, Black Law Students Association, Child and Youth Advocates, Catholic Law Students Association, Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law, Ethics, Law, and Biotechnology Club, Federalist Society, Forum on Local Government and Politics, Harvard Defenders, Harvard European Law Association, HL Central, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, HLS Dems, HLS for Choice, HLS Veterans Association, HLS/KSG Association for Law and Policy, HLS Latter-day Saints, Journal on Legislation, Journal of Law and Technology, Lambda, Law Review, Legal Aid Bureau, Law School Council, MALSA, Native American Law Students Association, Negotiation Law Review, Public Interest Auction, Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, Society for Law Life and Religion, Stop DV, Tenant Advocacy Project.