Wednesday June 13, 2012

A Summer of Service

Public interest awards support University of Dayton law students who provide pro bono legal work during summer internships.

This summer, University of Dayton School of Law students are providing legal assistance to indigent defendants and victims of domestic violence and civil rights violations.

The students are supported by the Lisa A. Kloppenberg Public Interest Award, which provides stipends to help pay for living expenses during the students’ volunteer internships. Without these stipends, many students would lack the financial resources to devote their summer to pro bono work.

Six students received public interest awards this summer:

  • Jonathan Kenney: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Dayton
  • Joanna Lenefonte: Greene County Public Defender’s Office, Greene County, Ohio
  • Chip Nielson: Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Dayton
  • Laura Peters: Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project, Minneapolis
  • Nicholas Rizzo: Kent County Prosecutor’s Office, Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Catherine Tatum: Petersburg Public Defender's Office, Petersburg, Va.

Jonathan Kenney is working in the Dayton office of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Inc., a nonprofit law firm that provides legal assistance in civil matters to eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio. He is working on the firm’s home preservation project, helping with foreclosure defense for the indigent in Ohio.  

Kenney said that doing legal work in the public interest is important and rewarding. “Each day I see the ABLE staff, both attorney and non-attorney, working so selflessly to help those in our society who really have no one else to turn to, and I know we are making a difference,” he said.

Laura Peters is working as a legal intern with the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project in Minneapolis. She is researching the newest Minnesota case law and writing case summaries, which will be provided to legal advocates and pro bono attorneys serving underprivileged battered women.

Peters said she wanted to work with the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project because “protecting the rights of women, generally, and those that have been abused is something of interest to me. Additionally, I selected this position because I wanted to see what it would be like to serve as attorney for a nonprofit agency.”

Catherine Tatum is working at the Public Defender's Office in Petersburg, Va., where she conducts legal research, assists attorneys with preparing for motions and trials, and helps with the appeal process.

Tatum, who hopes to become a public defender after law school, said working in Petersburg, Va., gives her an opportunity to serve the surrounding community where she grew up. After previously interning with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission's administrative office, she said, her work this summer “allows me to really get in the trenches and serve clients directly.”

Joanna Lenefonte is working at the Public Defender's Office in Greene County, Ohio, representing indigent individuals charged with crimes. She said she wanted the opportunity to protect others who cannot afford legal representation. “Being able to help these clients, when others have turned them away, is always a gratifying feeling,” she said.

Chip Nielson is working with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, where he is helping to conduct investigations of housing, employment and other civil rights violations. He is assisting the team of investigators and attorneys with investigations and conducting reports for hearings and mediation.

Nicholas Rizzo is working with the victims of domestic violence during his internship with the Prosecutor’s Office in Kent County, Mich.

The Kloppenberg Public Interest Award was created in 2008 to assist students offering legal services available to poor and marginalized members of society. Recipients must work for a federal, state or local government agency or provide legal services through a not-for-profit community organization.

Donations for the public interest award may be made by contacting the School of Law at 937-229-3793, or Deborah Adler, director of development, at 937-229-4764 or

For more information, contact Bob Mihalek at 937-229-4683 or