Pace Law School’s Dean for Clinical Education, Vanessa Merton, Honored for Her Outstanding Commitment to Public Service

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Hastings-on-Hudson resident, Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Professor of Law at Pace Law School Vanessa Merton is honored with five different national/state public interest practice awards for creating a disaster relieve program to assist victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and for her unwavering dedication to public service.  In addition to these awards, the Westchester County Board of Legislators proclaimed March 7th “Vanessa Merton Day” in recognition of developing this momentous public service program.

Pace Law Students, under the supervision of Dean Merton, organized in a couple of weeks the Pace Law School 9/11 Disaster Relief Program.  More than 200 Pace Law School students volunteered to help victims of the 9/11 attacks obtain much needed legal assistance in areas ranging from landlord-tenant and unemployment benefits to the reformation of contracts and negotiations with insurance companies.    For its outstanding example of public service, Pace Law School was presented with the Seventh Annual PSLawNet Pro Bono Publico.

This year, in a ceremony attended by representatives of the Ninth Judicial District Grievance Committee, the New York State Attorney General, and the New York State Bar Association Project on the Public Interest, Pace Law School awarded Dean Merton the first recipient of the newly named “Vanessa Merton Pro Bono Award for Excellence in Service to the Public Interest”.  The award will be given out annually to a student, faulty member, staff member or alumnus/alumna who dedicates much of his or her practice to public service.

“This year, Dean Merton has received an unprecedented number of awards for her community service. Her dedication and resourcefulness in the pursuit of justice for the unrepresented make her an exemplary role model for our students, faculty, and alumni/ae,” said David Cohen, Dean of Pace Law School. “The Law School is proud to honor her by naming the Law School’s newly established annual Pro Bono award for her.”

This has been a banner year of celebration of the tremendous public interest orientation demonstrated by Pace Law students under Dean Merton’s supervision.

  • January 2002:  The Father Robert Drinan Award of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Pro Bono & Public Service Opportunities   Dean Merton was selected for this prestigious award by a national gathering of Pro Bono Legal Services Coordinators and Program Directors from law schools all over the United States and Canada.  The award is named for the great Jesuit advocate for social justice and human rights, also a prolific scholar, courageous Congressman, and Dean of Boston College Law School.   This award is intended for those members of the legal community, whether or not affiliated with a law school, who significantly advance and promote an ethic of pro bono and public service through program design and management.
  • March 2002:  At the annual dinner of the Pace Public Interest Law Students Organization on the unanimous recommendation of the PILSO Board, she received the PILSO Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring her commitment to public service as an educator, lawyer, and community activist.
  • April 2002:  Mark of Distinction Award of the National Association of Law Placement, an organization of several thousand career development professionals from U. S. and Canadian law schools and hiring and recruitment partners from most large and mid-size law firms and public law agencies.   Dean Merton received this award for recognizing the need for and creating a mechanism by which legal services were provided to New Yorkers harmed by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.   Dean Merton, Pace Law School, and the 9/11 Disaster Legal Assistance Program were described as a source of inspiration for law students, whether their eventual careers will be in the private or public sectors, who seek to make access to justice available to all.
  • May 2002 : New York State Bar Association President’s Pro Bono Award for the 9th Judicial District in the individual attorney category.   This award will be presented to Dean Merton in May, during the traditional Court of Appeals Law Day ceremony in Albany, in recognition of the outstanding pro bono programs that she has established and the service she has rendered.

Dean Merton has been a member of the faculty and administration of  Pace University School of Law  since  1989, when she was recruited from the City University of New York School of Law, where she had been a member of the founding faculty and the first Director of Clinical Education.   Before teaching at CUNY, Dean Merton taught in the legal clinic of her alma mater, New York University School of Law.

While at Pace, Dean Merton has also been voted Most Outstanding Professor by the graduating class.   In addition to teaching evidence, professional responsibility, and health law classroom courses, she directs the legal services clinical and externship programs at the Law School, and serves as Executive Director of the Law School’s free legal clinic, John Jay Legal Services Inc.  During her first five years at the Law School, she developed and taught the Access to Health Care Clinic; she now supervises the Prosecution of Domestic Violence Clinic, which enables law students to prosecute family violence misdemeanors in the office of the Manhattan District Attorney.

Professor Merton has lectured all over the United States and published extensively on issues of biomedical and legal ethics and on health issues of importance to women, most recently domestic violence, the exclusion of women subjects from medical research protocols, and the phenomenon of female genital mutilation. Dean Merton was the founding chair of the Institutional Review Board of the Community Research Initiative of New York, one of the first centers for community-based biomedical research on AIDS, and the first associate for law at the Hastings Center Institute for Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences.  She is a member of the Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic Advisory Board of the Lower Hudson Valley.

Vanessa Merton is a lifelong resident of Hastings-on-Hudson, and has been very active in that community’s affairs, including serving for five years on its Zoning Board, becoming the Vice-Chair of the local Democratic Committeee and running as the Democratic Party nominee for Village Trustee, and helping establish the local environmental watchdog organization, Hastings Waterfront Watch.  She is also a Girl Scout Troop Leader.

Founded in 1976, Pace Law School is located in White Plains, N.Y., 20 miles north of New York City. The School offers the J.D. program for full-time, and part-time day, and evening students. Its post-graduate program includes the LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees in Environmental Law and the LL.M. in Comparative Legal Studies. Pace has one of the nation’s top-rated environmental law programs and its Clinical Education Program also is nationally ranked, offering clinics in domestic violence prosecution, securities arbitration, criminal justice, and disability rights.

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