About Res Gestae

Tales of Law Degrees and Love


No one heads to law school expecting to find love, but when you put a bunch of bright young adults together, the occasional spark is bound to fly. We celebrate a few of the law students who found love as well as a law degree at the College of Law.

Donna Somma & Bob Tamietti (class of 1985)

Donna and Bob met at first year orientation, but they didn’t truly get to know each other until the famous Salt Lake City floods of 1983. A group of law students (including Bob and Donna) volunteered to help sandbag State Street, and all the lifting and hauling gave the two of them plenty of time to talk. “We admired each other from afar most of the way through school,” Bob said.  Bob and Donna went their separate ways after graduation (Bob to San Francisco and Donna to New York City), and it would be another three decades before they would meet again. They reconnected at their 30th class reunion in 2015, and the same connection they shared in law school was still there. They started dating long distance soon afterwards, and now they live together in Truckee, California. “We both believe the best is yet to come,” Donna said.  Donna recently retired from a tech startup called ComplexIQ that she cofounded. She spent most of her career working in the legal department at Scholastic, eventually becoming Vice President of Business Affairs for the Software and Internet Group. She has also been an adjunct and guest lecturer for business law, contracts, and licensing. Bob has spent the past 17 years as a Superior Court Judge in Truckee and plans to retire later this year.

Mike & Sheri Mower (class of 1993 and 1992)

Sheri was acting as the teaching assistant in Professor Ed Firmage’s Constitutional Law II class when she first met Mike. “I attended her tutorials to not only learn more about Con Law, but also to learn more about Sheri herself,” Mike said. Mike must have been intently paying attention to Sheri’s lessons, because he took over as TA for the same class the following year. Sheri spent the next summer clerking in Newport Beach and Phoenix, and a lovestruck Mike flew back and forth in order to court her. Both former congressional staffers in Washing-ton, D.C., they bonded over their passion for politics and public policy. Sheri and Mike got married during winter break of Mike’s 3L year. After graduation, Sheri worked for the law firm Holme Roberts & Owen and later for Wood Crapo. Mike worked as the Director of Community & Government Relations for Provo and was more recently appointed as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Together, Sheri and Mike had four children – Mallory, Christian, Abigail, and Alex. Sheri was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and, after a long and hard battle with the disease, passed away in 2004. “Sheri was one of the nicest and brightest people I knew,” Mike said. “And the outpouring of love and support from our friends at the College of Law at the time of her passing was so appreciated.” And the Mower’s legacy continues – Mike and Sheri’s daughter, Abigail Mower Rampton, was recently admitted to the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s class of 2023. “Sheri and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in law school together, and it’s exciting that our daughter is heading there this fall,” Mike said.

Justin Fouts & Abigail Brammer Fouts (class of 2018)

It was a fateful fall day in Professor Terry Kogan’s Contracts class when Justin decided to introduce himself to Abigail. “She had recently been elected as our SBA Rep, and I was new to Utah, so I figured ‘Hey, here’s a person who is obligated to be my friend!’” Justin said. After coordinating costumes for Halloween and truly missing each other over the fall break, Abigail and Justin started dating during the fall of their 1L year. Their relationship grew during their time at law school, culminating in a proposal on the roof of the law school building on graduation day. “That was my favorite law school memory!” Abigail said.
The Fouts sealed the deal last fall and now live in Arizona. Abigail is currently working for Jewish Family and Children’s Service, helping their clinics promote health equality throughout the Phoenix area. Justin is an associate attorney at Elardo Bragg Rossi & Plaumbo.

Maura Murphy & Dallas West (class of 2019)

Depending on who you ask, Maura and Dallas first met either at the beginning of orientation week during the Intro to Law class or at the end of orientation week at an afterparty. “This is quite the point of contention for us, and we both think we are 100% right,” Maura jokes. “Could our ‘meet cute’ sound any more like two attorneys?!” Maura and Dallas didn’t waste much time before becoming permanent study buddies. “Prior to entering law school, I was committed to avoiding intimate relationships like the plague, especially those involving fellow law students,” Dallas said. “However, Maura was (and still is) very convincing.” Dallas must be pretty convincing too, because Maura enthusiastically agreed to marry him during a trip to Jackson Hole towards the end of their 3L year. Being engaged while in law school does have its perks, such as the chance to practice drafting and negotiating their own prenuptial agreement during Professor Laura Kessler’s family law class. (That’s the kind of hands-on experience you just don’t get at other law schools). Both Maura and Dallas currently work in the Office of Sponsored Projects at the University of Utah negotiating clinical trial agreements between the U. and large pharmaceutical companies. Dallas works with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Maura works on the team that focuses on the Internal Medicine Departments.

The College of Law Giving Day 2020


The College of Law joined together to raise an impressive total of
$15,000
to support scholarship for law students during the U’s second annual giving day.

All donations made to the College of Law will go towards the Dean’s Fund which is a discretionary tool for Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner to allocate for priorities such as scholarships and diversity and wellness initiatives. The “Dollars for the Dean’s Fund” campaign included a matching
$5,000
gift from Elizabeth Kronk Warner and her husband, Connor Warner, a professor at the U’s College of Education.

Donors Pay-it-Forward with Creation of Admissions and Inclusion Site


Ken Okazaki doesn’t have a story to tell of feeling left out or different as one of the few non-white students who attended the College of Law in 1979. “No, I’ve never felt unwelcome. I never thought I was a person of color. I just always thought I was who I was,” said Okazaki, whose parents moved to Utah from Hawaii to attend graduate school and decided to stay to raise their family.

Instead, Okazaki invokes the U’s rival to explain why he wanted to donate to the Admissions and Inclusion Suite at the College of Law. The room opened in 2016 as a place to help people of color connect with resources and a community to assist them in excelling during law school. Okazaki donated personally and his law firm, Jones Waldo, matched his contribution. Other individual donors include Gilbert Martinez, Sam Alba, Jane and Tami Marquardt, Robert Marquardt, and Cecilia and Ross Romero.

“It’s almost like that BYU [Brigham Young University] motto, the world is our campus,” Okazaki said. The suite is a “gateway to the law school. We should welcome everybody.”

Okazaki said it’s important that a diversity of perspectives are represented at the school,  which is the pitch that moved him to donate. “In order to be a good lawyer, you’ve got understand people and understand the judges and the clients and the other side,” he said, adding that it would be “myopic” if “you can only see white middle class, upper class perspectives on things.”

When Okazaki was planning his career, there was no question he would continue his education beyond a bachelor’s degree. His parents were passionate about education and well known for their contributions to Utah. His mother, Chieko Okazaki, was a teacher in Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado and earned a master’s degree in educational administration. She became the first non-Caucasian woman to serve on a general board of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1961. She was a member of the General Relief Society Presidency and an author. His father, Edward Yukio Okazaki, also served in the LDS church as a mission president and regional representative, was a decorated World War II veteran who received the Silver Star and Purple Heart, had a successful career in social work, and is thought to have created the nation’s first Council on Aging for Utah with former Gov. Cal Rampton. “They both believed education was the most important thing to get in preparation for the rest of your life,”

Okazaki said. He also contributes to the U’s College of Social Work in his parents’ names. Okazaki said he took a variety of graduate school exams and received a few scholarships but ultimately chose the U for law school. He graduated in 1982. “I’m not the smartest guy who came out of there, but I’m one of the luckiest guys,” he said.

While Okazaki didn’t want to name his clients, his practice today revolves around ligation. He feels most gratified in negotiations related to resolutions of disputes and mergers and acquisitions. He likens taking on new clients to dating. “It’s a real relationship business. You have a list of what you’re look-ing for in your spouse, it’s kind of what you look for in a lawyer. I’ve told many people, ‘This is like dating. We’re going on a date. If you don’t like me and I don’t like you, we shouldn’t go steady,’” he said.

For the clients he commits to, Okazaki said the rewards extend beyond winning cases. “I’ve represented some really good people. We’ve become really good friends.’”

AT A GLANCE: THE ADMISSIONS AND INCLUSION SUITE

Several donors were integral to the creation of the College of Law’s Admissions and Inclusion Suite, designed to be a welcoming gateway to law school for the minority student community.

The suite was dedicated in 2016. Its mission is to help law students better connect with resources and a community to assist them in excelling through law school, a path that for many first generation and minority students is travelled alone.

Donations from Gilbert Martinez, Sam Alba, Jane and Tami Marquardt, Robert Marquardt, Ken Okazaki and Cecilia M. and Ross I. Romero were vital to launching the idea. The law firm Jones Waldo also contributed significantly.

Using a Career in the Law to Help People


Lowell Brown has provided tremendous support to the College of Law since his graduation in 1982.

In 2015, Brown, began soliciting other law alums in Southern California to name a study room in the new building. He and his wife Sonja recently made a significant gift to their endowed fund, which will provide an annual student scholarship. Brown also serves on the College of Law’s Board of Trustees.

Brown spoke to Res Gestae recently in a Q&A about his time spent in law school and his desire to give back at this stage in his life.

Q: What made you interested in going to law school?
A: It all began with an adolescent understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer. When I was 14 years old, the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” enthralled me. Like thousands of other young people, I wanted to be like Atticus Finch: To stand for noble principles and make statements by my behavior consistent with those principles.

Then something happened that changed my perspective forever. A few years later, when I was in high school, I had a brief conversation with my late father. He was profoundly hearing disabled and never had the opportunities that I would have, especially in that era when disabled people weren’t accommodated as they are now. His influence on me was profound – beyond that of anyone I’ve ever known. My dad asked me what kind of work I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I was thinking I would like to be a lawyer. He thought for a moment, and then his response was something like this: “Well, that is a good profession to have if you like to help people.”

That moment has stayed with me ever since. Until then, in my youth I had never seen practicing law quite that way. The simple concept of using the law to help individual people remained present in my mind throughout the rest of my formal education, including law school, and endured after I became a lawyer in Los Angeles. Now, after 37 years of practicing law, I look back with profound gratitude at the opportunities I’ve had to help individuals who are struggling with the provision of medical care. These are physicians and others who work with them: their medical peers, nurses, therapists, and administrators. They are real people who care deeply about patients and about their colleagues, and who are devoted to patients’ safety while also seeking to preserve the careers of their fellow physicians who are struggling. It is, in essence, exactly the kind of work I wanted to do, and I feel profoundly grateful for having that opportunity.

Q: How did your time at the law school shape and/or help you in your career?
A: On reflection, I’m surprised to admit that what I remember most about law school is the students I studied with, struggled with, laughed with, and learned with. There are many classroom moments, of course, and hallway discussions with professors, but it is my fellow students who made the biggest mark on me. They were from everywhere and were of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. I remember the hours
we spent studying torts, the rule against perpetuities, the law of offer and acceptance and contracts; the late nights editing law journal articles; and so forth. We studied hard, but we helped each other learn. For the last several decades I have employed the same approach to working with colleagues. I work best in a group, when I can collaborate, share ideas, debate issues, and eventually come up with the right approach to a client problem. I am convinced that I would not have approached the law that way during my career if I had not been exposed to that collaborative, explorative method while in law school.

Q: What is one memorable experience from law school that will always stay with you?
A: I remember vividly one brief conversation I had with Professor Sam Thurman, who was by far my favorite professor and a man whose teaching style I loved. Somehow, the subject of what it would be like to be a lawyer came up, and I shared with him my expectation that I would have to devote a lot of time and energy to law practice, and that it would be challenging. In his inimitable quiet way, Sam looked at me, smiled and said, “Yes, it is a rigorous life.” I’ve never forgotten that. Sam proved to be right, and the “rigorous life” has not been a bad thing at all. Thankfully, I have been able to practice law, have a rewarding personal life, and still immerse myself in the rigors of the profession. To me, that meant rigorous challenges, rigorous thinking, and rigorous devotion to high standards. It has been exhilarating, and I’ve always felt that way about it.

Q: Outside of work, tell us about something interesting that you like to do?
A: I’m not a man of many hobbies, apart from being an almost ridiculously ardent fan of University of Utah football and basketball. My acquaintances and colleagues in Southern California are astonished that I, someone who grew up in Northern Utah, never learned to ski and still don’t ski. About 20 years ago, however, I began to read novels again. I’m afraid law school temporarily ruined my feelings about pleasure reading, because I spent so much time with my face in books in law school and later in practice. I finally decided that I would re-read the classics that I was supposed to read in high school and college, many of which I admittedly experienced only through the Cliff’s Notes. My repentant effort has been very rewarding. The novels I read as a high school and college student might as well be different books to me now, when I read them as an adult with three times the life experience I had when I first experienced them.

An Advocate for Including More Seats at the Table


Aida Neimarlija never saw herself as a lawyer. While earning undergraduate degrees in political sciences and economics at the University of Utah, she thought she would go into human rights work — a topic close to home for the refugee who fled Bosnia with her family when she was 13 and moved to Utah two years later. (Her mother had remembered briefly learning about Utah in school and, half-jokingly, said swimming in the Great Salt Lake would be like going to swim in their home country’s Adriatic Sea.)

A remark made to Neimarlija during an internship at the Utah Attorney General’s Office changed her trajectory. She had completed a legal project and the chief of one of the divisions was impressed.

“He said ‘Have you thought about going to law school?’ That type of encouragement made a huge difference to me. By then, I had not met any lawyers. I was a refugee. I learned English when I was a teenager. It just never hit me that I could be a lawyer,” Neimarlija recalled.

She graduated from the College of Law in 2008. Like that mentor, Neimarlija has since seized every opportunity to help a more diverse pool of Utahns recognize themselves as potential lawyers and judges. After a decade of intense litigation practice, Neimarlija took a sabbatical and focused full-time on diversity and inclusion issues as executive director of the Utah Center for Legal Inclusion. She recently stepped down from the post to become assistant general counsel for the Larry H. Miller Dealerships but remains an advisor on the executive committee.

The center aims to make Utah’s legal profession more reflective of the state’s changing demographics by “advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in Utah’s legal profession,” according to its website.

“The way I see it, UCLI’s mission is about giving everyone a seat the table … and giving them an opportunity to shape the justice system,” she said. “Without people participating in the justice system, seeing themselves on the court, seeing somebody that looks like them as a judge, as a law firm leader, as a U.S. Attorney, if they don’t see that, the trust and confidence in the justice system is not going to be as high.”

Neimarlija considered going out of state for law school but chose the U. because she received a large scholar-ship and wanted to benefit from the U’s small class sizes.

“Everything I had heard about the law school was true: It was very high quality. I loved the classes. I heard about close relationships between students and the faculty,” she said.

What stands out most from the law school were the excellent faculty and her practical experiences, including her trial advocacy class and internship opportunities. During her third year at school, Neimarlija joined the prosecution team at the Special Department for War Crimes of the Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, bolstered by her classes on criminal law and criminal procedure.

“The school has always done such a great job with the on-campus interviewing process and connecting students with local companies and organizations for internships and jobs,” she said. Such opportunities undoubtedly “enhanced my law firm career.”

While she intended to go into human rights or international law, her first-year summer associate experience at Snow, Christensen & Martineau sparked her interest in the courtroom. She joined Howrey LLP after law school to work on securities and antitrust cases, along with general business litigation. “I absolutely loved representing clients. I loved being in the courtroom and developing strategy on cases,” she said.

She became a partner at Burbidge Mitch-ell and Gross and then Gross & Rooney, where she had “a lot of opportunities to go to court, to take depositions, to do very meaningful work, and most importantly, to try cases. I caught the trial bug, big time.”

While taking a sabbatical, Neimarlija was approached by (now-retired) Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham about working at the Utah Center for Legal Inclusion. “It was so amazing and fulfilling to think about how we can shape things in our state. The demographics have changed, and they continue to change, but the legal profession has not kept up. One of the big issues we need to work on is the pipeline issue. We need to have a more organized, collaborative approach to bring diverse, traditionally underrepresented kids to law school and then help them succeed during law school and in the practice.” she said.

“It was just a fascinating opportunity to play a major part in putting these pieces of a puzzle together and making a big impact.”

A Young Alumnus Builds a Career and Gives Back


Going to law school was a delay tactic for Tyler Buswell.

He had graduated with an undergraduate degree in American Studies from Utah State University and wasn’t sure what to do next.

“The idea of being a lawyer seemed like it provided me lots of options—more school!—instead of getting a job,” Buswell joked.

He graduated from the College of Law in 2008 and “fell into” becoming a real estate lawyer after a summer working for a litigation firm during law school and getting an offer to go into real estate.

It may not have been his plan, but more than a decade after graduating from law school, Buswell is a top attorney specializing in real estate transactions and land use planning as a shareholder at Kirton McConkie in Salt Lake City. He credits his time at the U for honing skills on how to think, analyze and present an argument, providing lifelong friends and developing an ethos of giving back to the community.

That’s why he volunteered on the law school’s Young Alumni Association board, joined the college’s Board of Trustees and donated to help rebuild the law school, which was completed in 2015. He continues to give money for law school scholarships, too, because he remembers how stressful law school was and how the financial aid he received helped. “I didn’t get a ton of scholarships in law school,” he said, but the ones he received “made a big difference.

I didn’t have to get as many loans, and I could focus on studying. Having a little extra money in scholarships can make the law school experience significantly better. I had heard that was a need right now and I was happy to contribute.”

Buswell oversees large real estate transactions around the country and specializes in self-storage, agricultural, healthcare, industrial, office, retail, condo and hospitality. The notable Utah projects he is involved in include the City Creek mall in downtown Salt Lake City, the new hotel project next to the Salt Palace Convention Center and various acquisitions and dispositions of property for Intermountain Healthcare.

He notes that he uses his law degree to help large companies make money, but law school also helped him analyze how his work impacts people and how he can give back in other ways. “That’s part of the ethos of law school,” he said. “A law degree is essentially a liberal arts graduate degree. You are learning to think about a bunch of different things, you learn ways to think. Most lawyers that I know are very thoughtful and caring people,” he said.

He remains fond of his professors who he says helped him expand his way of thinking and for how they showed students they wanted them to succeed, including Dan Medwed, who taught evidence, Amy Wildermuth, who taught civil procedure and legal theory professor Terry Kogan. Buswell recalls giving a response in Kogan’s class and being told that lawyers don’t speak in platitudes.

“’I want you to give me direct, clear answers. You’re going to be a lawyer,’” he remembers Kogan saying. “I knew that he cared and wanted me to succeed. He was trying to push us. I could say that with lot of professors.”

One of the lasting ways law school shaped Buswell’s life is through his classmates. He counts the class of 120 students as friends, relationships that were forged through a difficult but exhilarating time of friendly competition. “There was something about the U law school community that really did foster and encourage people to have good relationships,” he said. “I really care about those people.”

A Career Change from the Classroom to the Courtroom


Trent Lowe always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. But before he got to the courtroom as a civil litigator, he decided to spend time in the classroom as an 8th grade teacher. It sparked a passion for education equity that would last, as he used skills gained at the College of Law to continue to help youth.

While he was applying to law schools, Lowe learned about Teach for America, which recruits college grads and places them in low-income schools. He spent three years as an English teacher in Memphis. “It was a wonderful experience. I sometimes miss it,” he said. “It was definitely hard work. You weren’t only a teacher but also a camp counselor, a classroom dad and advice giver. You had to fill all of those roles for students who didn’t have the family support or community support growing up that I had.”

He loved it so much he considered committing to education, but the economic realities of teaching led him back to his first goal of becoming a lawyer. It was a no-brainer for him to return to the University of Utah, where he completed his undergraduate degree. “From birth, I’ve been a Ute,” he said.

He was drawn to civil and business litigation after his first-year civil procedure class, and the passion was sealed after work-ing as a summer associate at Clyde Snow, where he works as an associate focusing on business litigation and employment law. Litigation, he said, “just fits my personality. I’m a talker and I enjoy being in the courtroom. I enjoy the adversarial nature of it. I knew I wanted to be engaging with other attorneys and working on the strategy of litigation.”

Lowe said the learning that took place in the law school classrooms led to his understanding of the law. And the clinical experiences at the U “prepared me to understand how the law is actually practiced.” He was an intern at the Utah Court of Appeals and the federal district court, and he earned a slot on the national trial advocacy team.

As a second-year law student, Lowe worked as a policy intern at the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office, where he worked on a Pay for Success model that funds high-quality social interventions if they achieve outcomes. Lowe’s work led to a $1.15 million grant in 2014 from the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund for the Policy Innovation Lab to help state and local governments implement Pay for Success projects across the country. The project is now housed at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and it is funding projects that include reducing chronic homelessness and recidivism, along with improving outcomes for children through programs that improve kindergarten readiness and help students with disabilities.

Lowe continues to give back to the community by volunteering for the U Alumni Association’s Board of Governors and the College of Law’s Young Alumni Board, where he helps organize events like mock interviews and the fall and spring “crawls” that introduce students to law firms. That’s where he was first introduced to his own law firm. He says he wants to give back to an institution that gave him so many great opportunities.

“If I could contribute to and help out the law students to have experiences that could potentially get them jobs like I did, I wanted to be a part of that,” he said.

Honoring Alumni in the Midst of a Pandemic


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone’s lives have been disrupted in one way or another. One significant and deeply saddening disruption has been the cancellation of the law school’s annual alumni awards dinner. It has been the school’s privilege to recognize significant alumni and honorary alumni at each annual dinner. That privilege is now being transferred to this column, hopefully for the first, and only, time.

YOUNG ALUMNA OF THE YEAR

This year’s Young Alumna of the Year is Amy Fowler. The criteria for selection of this award includes consideration of performance in the profession. Fowler was chosen for this award because of an amazing career in her short time as a lawyer.

Fowler practiced criminal defense at the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association for five years as a trial attorney prior to starting her own firm, FowlerVenable. Fowler has been active in the legal community since her graduation in 2011. For example, she is the co-founder of the LGBT & Allied Lawyers of Utah, is a Utah State Bar commissioner and was elected to be a Salt Lake City Councilwoman in 2017. Fowler also spent five years working and living with different communities in Guatemala and speaks Spanish fluently.

ALUMNUS OF THE YEAR

This year’s Alumnus of the Year award recipients are Steve Clyde and Kent Scott.

The criteria for the selection of this award includes sustained or extraordinary service to the legal profession.

(left) Kent Scott, (right) Steve Clyde

Clyde is vice president, director and shareholder at Clyde Snow, where he has specialized in natural resources law, including oil and gas, public land law, and mining law, with a primary emphasis in water law. Clyde has been active in the legal community throughout his career. He has served on the Utah Legislature’s Water Task Force and on the Executive’s Water Task Force since 2007. In addition to all his other public service, Clyde served tirelessly on the College of Law’s Board of Trustees for many years, including a stint as chair and as an adjunct faculty member at the law school.

Scott is vice president and shareholder at Amy Folwer Babcock Scott and Babcock. Scott has 43 years of experience and has primarily been involved in the prevention and resolution of construction project disputes. But that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Scott’s contributions to the profession. Scott is a leader in the ADR community and worked closely with Jim Holbrook, a longtime College of Law professor, on ADR programs and service to the community. He has been active in Lawyers Helping Lawyers and served as a 12-step meeting coordinator, sponsor and mentor for attorneys, the homeless and the addiction communities. He has also acted as pro bono counsel for the Calvary Baptist Church by providing contributions and support to the congregation and as pro bono counsel to the Skaggs Memorial Church. Last, and possibly most meaningful to the law school, each and every year Scott donates money to the law school to pay for 10 students to attend the alumni dinner. He does this completely voluntarily and without expecting any recognition. As is true of so many College of Law alumni, Clyde and Scott contribute silently and selflessly. Their contributions make such a significant difference that even though they don’t expect recognition, it is an honor to recognize them and ensure that their service is given the attention it deserves.

HONORARY ALUMNA OF THE YEAR

Utah State Rep. Patrice Arent is this year’s Honorary Alumna of the Year. Arent is a graduate of the University of Utah and Cornell Law School. She has devoted most of her professional life to public service, serving for almost 20 years in the Utah Legislature as a Democrat representing Millcreek. Most tellingly, in this era of conflict, Arent is widely known for her ability to collaborate with diverse groups to solve serious problems facing our state.

Among other areas, Arent has been active in two highly significant issues: clean air and Utah’s Newborn Safe Haven law. Her clean air bills have been enacted and began the crucial work to improve Utah’s air quality. Her Newborn Safe Haven law has saved an estimated 40 babies and the stories about their lives are truly heartwarming. Arent is the founder and co-chair of the Legislature’s bipartisan Clean Air Caucus and co-chair of the House Ethics Committee. She has also passed legislation to make it illegal to engage in price gauging during an emergency, something that is highly relevant in today’s world.

Prior to her legislative service, Arent was a division chief in the Utah Attorney General’s Office, worked in a private law firm, and served as associate general counsel to the Utah Legislature. She has also taught as an adjunct at the College of Law.

Arent is not only well-deserving of the award, she is a truly remarkable woman and someone we are honored to recognize as this year’s Honorary Alumna of the Year.

U Students Gain Experience in Practicing Immigration Law at Border


Immigration attorneys Leonor Perretta and Melissa Moeinvaziri taught a course at the College of Law focused on immigration law prior to the students’ trip to Texas.

Scenes from immigrant detention centers at the border of the U.S. and Mexico hit home for Amitay Flores.

Children separated from their parents and crammed in tight cells, sometimes sleeping on cement floors. Unsanitary conditions that don’t permit a clean place to change a diaper or wash a bottle. Cold temperatures that leave those locked up prone to the flu and other illnesses.

The troubling situation in photos flashed in news stories about the immigration crisis left Flores feeling helpless and angry. Flores, a second-year student at the College of Law, could easily picture her own family behind the chain-linked fences had circumstances played out differently at the time her parents arrived in the U.S. from Mexico years ago. So as the debate over detaining immigrants in ICE detention facilities continued on the political stage, she sought a way to make a difference.

Her passion to help those in dire circumstances inspired Flores to raise money independently as part of the Student Immigration Law Association to send a group of law students to the border earlier this spring to offer assistance to those held at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas.

Ten students and U professors Melissa Moeinvaziri and RonNell Andersen Jones offered services to many housed in the 1,904-person facility for a week earlier this spring, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the country down temporarily.

Students were mentored by their professors and licensed attorneys to provide a variety of assistance to immigrants who were representing themselves in asylum proceedings. The group partnered with non-profit American Gateways that connected them to immigrants in need.

“When you’re detained, you don’t always have access to legal representation or know how to navigate this incredibly complex system,” said Flores, who aspires to practice immigration law after graduation and organized the trip in her capacity as president of the Student Immigration Law Association. Many local legal providers are overwhelmed because of the border crisis and the ability for those detained to connect in a timely manner with an attorney can be difficult. Law students being supervised by attorneys brought additional human capital to the region to help, she said.

Moeinvaziri, an assistant adjunct professor at the College of Law and an attorney who practices immigration law, said the opportunity to travel to the border allowed students to take a deep dive into the current immigration situation to see first-hand how real people are being affected by polices administered by President Donald Trump.

Moeinvaziri taught an immigration law course along with Leonor Perretta, a local immigration law attorney, in advance of the trip. The classroom time allowed the professors to prepare students for what to expect on the frontlines of the border crisis. “I believe this will be an invaluable experience for the students,” said Moeinvaziri. “This experience should instill in them the importance of volunteering. While they are getting school credit for this, I hope the students are encouraged to volunteer when they are attorneys. As a profession we make a living off of a complex and inaccessible legal system, I believe we owe it to our community to off pro bono services as often as we are able."

Students enrolled in an immigration law course received a strong back-ground in legal issues before volunteering in Texas.

Many of the experiences gained during the trip, which happened right before the U.S. shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will stay with students for a lifetime, Flores said. Throughout the course of the week, students met with clients and laid the groundwork for cases through translating documents. They learned to interview people and practiced how to communicate compassionately, with clients describing trauma on a level many students hadn’t previously witnessed.

Andersen Jones said the students’ professionalism and quality of work in hard circumstances impressed the group of professors overseeing the work.

“I could not have been prouder of the students who volunteered on this border trip. They were professional, focused, compassionate, and tireless in their efforts to assist. They represented the very best of what Utah Law stands for—hard work, creative problem-solving, and, especially, a commitment to serving those most in need. They were impressive to everyone we met,” said Andersen Jones.

Flores said the experience will stick with her as memorable from her time at the College of Law. She’s grateful for donor contributions that allowed the trip to happen, including donations from the Utah Bar Foundation and law firms Fabian Van Cott and Parr Brown Loveless and Gee.

“Not only is this experience the most memorable, but it has been one of the most impactful experiences in my life. It was an eye-opening experience to witness first-hand how our immigration system treats those who are coming to the United States to escape from violence and extreme poverty. There are numerous barriers that are intentionally placed to prevent these individuals from accessing justice,” said Flores.

“I believe law students have a crucial role to play in tearing down these barriers and assisting immigrants to apply for relief from detention. I look forward to the day when the United States government stops placing immigrants in detention, until then, I will continue to do everything in my power to serve those who come to our country looking for a better future,” she said.

Lending a Hand to the Most Vulnerable

JoLynn Spruance turned a grassroots volunteer placement program into a powerful network of community legal sites designed to help Utah’s most underserved populations find access to justice while training future lawyers in the process.


JoLynn Spruance is known as a mentor among many graduates of the College of Law’s Pro Bono Initiative program.

JoLynn Spruance didn’t know exactly where her career path would lead her as a child growing up in California, but one thing mattered in all of the options to consider: finding a way to give back.

For the past 13 years, Spruance has done exactly that in serving as director of the College of Law’s Pro Bono Initiative. The program has left a lasting impact on numerous College of Law graduates who’ve received real-world lawyering experience while volunteering to provide services for some of the most vulnerable and underserved populations in Utah under the watchful guidance of licensed attorneys.

Under her leadership, the program grew from a model where the college helped students find pro bono placements with attorneys in the community on a one-on-one basis, to a more robust organization that currently operates sites year-round that are staffed by our volunteer students and volunteer lawyer supervisors in Salt Lake City and Ogden. “PBI has developed and trained some of our most important future leaders that are committed to pro bono service and continue to solve these hard emerging legal problems because they have learned the importance of giving back,” said Spruance, who will leave the College of Law to pursue new opportunities. at the close of the spring semester.

“Our legal community in Salt Lake City is tight knit. We all try to support and help each other,” she added. As PBI prepares for a new era, those who’ve worked closest with Spruance emphasize the legacy she will leave behind as a skilled mentor able to bring out the best in law students and as a community organizer adept at bringing people together to achieve a goal of helping underserved populations.

“Having provided non-profit legal services for 30 years, it has been my experience that it doesn’t matter how great the idea or the service, if you don’t have the right person to administer the program it will never be successful. JoLynn was the “right” person to run the Pro Bono Initiative. I have worked with JoLynn since the inception of the Pro Bono Initiative and worked with her to make the family law clinic and the rainbow clinics a success. JoLynn is eternally optimistic and delight to work with – anytime an issue came up with a clinic, she worked with all the stakeholders to reach a resolution. She is a “tiger” when it comes to supporting and advocating for the students who volunteer for our clinics,” said Stewart P. Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, who is a mentor of Spruance’s and a close partner in the college’s PBI efforts.

“JoLynn has enthusiastically encouraged countless students to sign up for our clinics and tirelessly recruited hundreds of attorneys to volunteer to supervise at the clinics. The result is that thousands of people have received free legal services and advice, students have gained tremendous knowledge and confidence to practice law and we attorneys have been able to “give back” to students and pro se litigants – not a bad legacy at that,” he said.

“PBI has developed and trained some of our most important future leaders that are committed to pro bono service and continue to solve these hard emerging legal problems because they have learned the importance of giving back.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

KATHERINE PEPIN
GRADUATED 2018

Role with PBI:
Community Legal Clinic Fellow 2017-2018

Current employment:
Clyde Snow & Sessions, P. C.

MELISSA MOEINVAZIRI
GRADUATED 2017

Role with PBI:
Community Legal Clinic Fellow 2016-2017

Current employment:
Perretta Law Office

ADAM SAXBY
GRADUATED 2016

Role with PBI:
Peter “Rocky” Rognlie, Fellow 2015-2016

Current employment:
Equal Opportunity Consultant in Affirmative Action Office, U of U

ADRIANNA ANDERSON
GRADUATED 2015

Role with PBI:
Peter “Rocky” Rognlie, Fellow 2014-2015

Current employment:
Supervising Attorney, Legal Assistance Of Western New York, Inc.

ERIC HEIER
GRADUATED 2017

Role with PBI:
Peter “Rocky” Rognlie Fellow 2016-2017

Current employment:
Associate Athletic, Director for Compliance and Student Success at Tarleton State University, Texas

TAYLOR SMITH
GRADUATED 2019

Role with PBI:
Community Legal Clinic Fellow 2018-2019

Current employment:
Judicial Clerk for the Honorable Trevor Atkin of the 8th Judicial District Court, Clark County, Nevada

ISABEL MORENO
GRADUATED 2016

Role with PBI:
Community Legal Clinic Fellow 2015-2016

Current employment:
Associate Director for Admission and Financial Aid, College of Law U of U

NUBIA PENA
GRADUATED 2016

Role with PBI:
Pro Bono Fellow 2015-2016

Current employment:
Director of Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs

A PATH TO ADVOCACY FOR PRO BONO SERVICE

Spruance grew up in Paradise, California, where her father practiced water law. A family connection in Salt Lake City prompted her to consider the University of Utah for college, where she graduated with a degree in family and consumer studies. Her initial work experiences were back in California, working with an organization called Loaves and Fishes that provides assistance to those experiencing homelessness in the Sacramento area. Spruance worked at the organization’s Mustard Seed School, an initiative designed to keep kids’ education consistent while their families were between permanent housing. Later, Spruance pursued a master’s degree in gerontology at the University of Utah. Her career interests were piqued by an ad for an opening for a coordinator position at the College of Law under former Dean Scott Matheson.

Her father encouraged her to couple her passion for non-profits with the law, a place where there is often access to justice shortages for much of the population. She started with PBI at a time when there were two on-site clinics and a grassroots volunteer placement program. Dean Hiram Chodosh continued to expand legal sites for the program during his tenure from 2006 to 2013 as did former Dean Bob Adler, whose deanship ended last year.

JoLynn Spruance spent more than a decade developing student leaders as part of the Pro Bono Initiative.

Today, PBI sponsors several sites in Salt Lake
City and Ogden that focus on specialty areas of law including American Indian law, debtors counseling, expungement, family law, medical legal help, rainbow law, street law and general community legal sites. The program’s mission has evolved to encompass three goals: to provide skill building legal opportunities for students under the direct supervision of attorneys; to develop placements where alumni can volunteer, network and serve as mentors to law students; and to demonstrate the professional responsibility of those in the legal profession to provide pro bono legal services to the underserved in the community who otherwise would not have access to the justice system.

PBI provides an unparalleled opportunity for students to engage with and serve the community, while building valuable lawyering skills including cli-ent counseling, legal research, and document drafting. The College of Law strongly encourages all students to perform at least 50 hours of volunteer service during their law school careers. Students who meet this benchmark are presented with a Certificate of Service at graduation. PBI compliments the College of Law’s changing experiential learning program, which students can enroll in for credit, versus the non-credit volunteer experience that comes with being a part of the PBI. The program has grown in funding and in community participation, in part due to Spruance’s efforts, said Brett Ellsworth, manager of immigrant services for Latter-day Saint Charities, and the Welfare Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“One of our immigrant services is an immigration and family Law legal clinic. Our collaboration with PBI and JoLynn is with Welfare Square, Sugarhouse and Ogden. Our legal clinics provide brief legal counsel and advice to immigrants and their families through a combined effort of law students, pro bono attorneys, and support/funding from the LDS church, said Ellsworth. He noted the strong impact the program has made on the immigrant population, noting the services fill a gap in the community and that a feeling of trust is fostered with immigrant families.

A NEW CHAPTER

As Spruance prepares for new career opportunities outside the College of Law, the program will temporarily be overseen by alumni Rob Jepson, who is an Access to Justice Director at the Utah State Bar and a PBI alumnus. In addition, alumnus Jonny Benson will take the lead with three community legal clinics. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely bring a host of new issues to PBI clinics in coming months. The services provided to the community have always shifted with needs, Spruance said.

“All of the sites have changed according to legal needs of community and the times that are in. Whoever takes the reins of PBI next will have a whole new set of interesting challenges – landlord tenant issues, the pandemic and other issues,” she said. Much of PBI’s success is due to an already strong presence of legal non-profits in the community to aid PBI’s mission. Many alumni view the progress made under Spruance’s direction as beneficial not only to the community, but to the law school’s evolution.

“I consider the PBI as a signature project for the law school. It has been successful primarily because of Jolynn’s efforts and earned the respect and affection of the LDS church and the community. I have personally attended the PBI in Salt Lake and found it to be very satisfying for several reasons. One is the opportunity and privilege it is to work closely with our law students for a couple of hours as they learn to appreciate the satisfaction of doing pro bono service. They are bright and enthusiastic and a credit to the school as they volunteer their time without expectation of school credit or other reward.

Just much needed service,” said attorney Rod Snow, a former president of the Utah State Bar, who has worked with Spruance and PBI. Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner praised Spruance’s contributions to the law school and said the institution will continue to build on the progress she has made as the program moves into the future.

“JoLynn is truly a phenomenal person. Not only has she played a substantial role in developing an amazing program that benefits our students and our community – PBI, but she has created a very special community here at the College of Law. Numerous current students and graduates have shared stories with me about how JoLynn created a “safe space” at the College of Law where they could go for support (and snacks). She also helped numerous students prepare for the bar exam. Additionally, she is one of the nicest, most professional people I have had the pleasure of working with. She will be greatly missed,” said Kronk Warner.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Res Gestae asked students and alumni to share stories about their experiences working with JoLynn Spruance and the Pro Bono Initiative. Here are a few responses.

“There are so many positive things that can be said about JoLynn and her legacy as the Pro Bono Initiative director that cannot adequately be expressed in this short statement. She genuinely cares about the community and has helped to develop many clinics that serve diverse groups across Utah. It is in her nature to be welcoming, inclusive and positive ... these traits have sparked passion in students and members of our legal community to give back and help countless people in need. She is an incredible mentor and a compassionate friend to so many because she genuinely cares about who you are as a person. Besides my subterranean library cubicle, I spent more time in her office than any other space on campus. I am personally indebted to her for her kindness, guidance & the opportunities that the Pro Bono Initiative created in my life. Overall, she exemplifies the spirit of a humanitarian and her legacy will continue to echo the ethos of what pro bono work is all about. Thank you Jolynn!”

— Tadd Dietz


 

“Hard to put into words the impact JoLynn has had on the legal community, the law school, and S.J. Quinney’s students. People of her quality are few and far between.”

— Eric Heier


 

“JoLynn is amazing and will surely be missed!”

— Eddie Prignano


 

“My name is Sinndy and I’m a pre-law leap student. During fall 2019 a requirement of my leap class was to volunteer at a legal site, so I picked the PBI program offered at the law school. I’ll never forget how welcoming JoLynn was at my first clinic, she made me feel like I belonged. Over the semester she always reminded me of my strengths and how to overcome challenges. JoLynn is a very inspirational person and I wish her the very best on her new endeavors. Sad to see her leave but I am happy for this new chapter in her life.”

— Sinndy Rios


 

“JoLynn is irreplaceable! She has positively impacted the lives of so many students!! Thanks for all your amazing service over the years!”

— Kim Hooper Paulding


 

“JoLynn is an institution! I am so grateful for all she has done in this role and I wish her very well.”

— Alison Ann


 

“One of the law school’s very best. Best wishes, JoLynn.”

— Anneliese Booher


“My law school experience would have been so much less fulfilling without JoLynn and PBI. JoLynn reached out to me to work with her running the expungement clinic. I was awed by how much time she put in — how many evenings — and how many years she had been doing that. JoLynn not only invested in the clinics and their clients, but in her law student volunteers. She was always asking how my classes were going, and whether I was keeping my life in balance. In addition to looking out for the students, she somehow stayed on top of the details of all the different clinics and their needs. I felt overwhelmed just with one clinic. When law school was discouraging, JoLynn was always encouraging. And PBI gave you a glimpse of what could be after school.”

— Emily Mabey Swensen