Law school alumna Hillary Gaston Walsh, ’12 JD, has been honored by the American Bar Association (ABA) with a 2016 Pro Bono Publico Award. She will be one of five recipients honored at a special luncheon during the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco in August.
“Hillary has demonstrated that she is committed to providing access to justice for indigent and underrepresented populations,” Daniel Hamilton, dean of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, wrote in his nomination letter. “What’s particularly interesting about Hillary’s pro bono work is that for the past few years, Hillary has spent more than a thousand hours representing pro bono clients in the United States remotely from her home at Osan Air Base in South Korea. …I am very proud of Hillary and her work.” (Work done pro bono is done at no cost to the client.)
Interest in Human Rights
Walsh’s story begins in Uganda. This is where her passion for defending human rights was born — volunteering at an orphanage where she befriended street boys, some of whom were former child soldiers. Since then, she has continued to demonstrate that commitment in many ways:
- Working at Boyd’s Immigration Clinic during law school as a student attorney under the mentorship of professor and clinic co-director Fatma Marouf
- Taking on numerous pro bono cases through organizations such as the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Salvation Army
- Teaching free legal education classes
- Writing advisory briefs for courts and appearing numerous times before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals defending her clients.
- Continuing to make a difference as she works on cases from South Korea where her Air Force pilot husband is stationed.
She recently submitted an advisory brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Boyd’s Immigration Clinic and the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project requesting the U.S. Supreme Court clarify a disagreement between appellate courts about the correct standard for review that should be applied by appellate courts in cases involving determinations of U.S. citizenship. She also deftly handled a complex asylum case before the 9th Circuit defending a man from Guatemala who was persecuted by gangs. After winning at the 9th Circuit, Walsh filed a motion for attorney fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The full amount of more than $16,000 was awarded. This is just one of several challenging immigration appeals she has handled pro bono while in Korea.
In addition, Walsh wrote an article on asylum law titled “Forever Barred: Reinstated Removal Orders and the Right to Seek Asylum” that will be published in spring 2017 by the Catholic University Law Review.
And, in the continuing pursuit of her passion, Walsh is applying for a teaching fellowship at Georgetown University in connection with its doctor of laws program in immigration asylum work.
Reaction to Recognition
“I am incredibly fortunate to do the work I believe I was created to do, and being recognized for doing it by the ABA and the many people who nominated me is a huge honor,” said Walsh. “My clients have endured unspeakable tragedies — undocumented teenage girls held captive in Las Vegas and sold for sex; a gay woman who fled from Central America after a gang leader raped her to ‘cure’ her sexual orientation; a U.S. citizen, born in Louisiana, whom the government detained for more than four years and then deported in error — and I get to help put them on a path to a brighter future.”
“I also love immigration law because of its complexity, but I absolutely couldn't do this work if it weren't for the continued help and inspiration of Boyd professor Fatma Marouf and the outstanding attorneys at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, an organization that has referred many clients to me,” she said.
About the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award
The Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service works to ensure access to justice through the expansion and enhancement of the delivery of legal and other law-related services to underserved people through volunteer efforts of legal professionals nationwide. The committee fosters the development of pro bono programs and activities by law firms, bar associations, corporate legal departments, law schools, government attorney offices, and others; analyzes the scope and function of pro bono programs; and proposes and reviews policy that affects lawyers' ability to provide pro bono legal services.
With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.