Past David Carliner Public Interest Award Winners

2018 Recipients: Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian, Co-Founders and Co-Directors of the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project

In 2014, Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian founded the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, a national nonprofit based in Philadelphia that represents minors who face charges in the adult criminal justice system. The organization aims to keep minors out of adult incarceration facilities and bring home adults who were sentenced as children to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Impressively, YSRP has kept 92% of its clients out of adult prisons.

Additionally, Fine and Visser Adjoian established the Youth Advocacy Project, a multi-disciplinary, pro bono program based at the University of Pennsylvania that has successfully trained more than 70 law and social work students to work in teams on behalf of Philadelphia youth charged as adults. The two women also led a successful campaign to end the city’s practice of billing parents for the costs associated with their minor child's incarceration and created an infrastructure to provide mitigation and reentry planning for Philadelphia’s juvenile “lifers.”

Previously, Fine was a Zubrow Fellow at the Juvenile Law Center and Visser Adjoian served as Associate Director and Staff Attorney at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Toll Public Interest Center.

2018 Finalist: Thomas Smith, Executive Director and Lead Attorney, Justice at Work


2017 Recipient: Becca Heller, Director, The International Refugee Assistance Project

In only ten years, Becca Heller went from law student that works with Iraqi refugees to standing at the helm of the International Refugee Assistance Project, an organization that equips those seeking resettlement with pro bono and comprehensive legal representation. IRAP leverages its growing network of law student students and pro bono attorneys (which reaches across 29 schools and 75 international firms and corporations) to move forward the most urgent cases and connect legal resources with needs.

In January of 2018, Heller and her team organized thousands of volunteer attorneys at airports nationwide to defend the rights of inbound refugees and immigrants caught in the crosshairs of President Trump’s travel ban. Together with the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center, and Yale Law School, Heller led a coalition of attorneys and law students to secure an emergency Temporary Restraining Order, within 24 hours of the President’s Executive Order, that blocked law enforcement from immediately detaining and deporting those affected. By October of this year, Heller received a Macarthur Genius Grant for her work.


2016 Award Recipient: Blaine Bookey, co-legal director, Center For Gender and Refugee Studies

Blaine Bookey, an expert in gender asylum law, has worked on behalf of women and children fleeing gender-based violence and persecution since the first year after law school when she investigated reports of sexual violence in post-earthquake Haiti. As Co-Legal Director at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), she has pushed the U.S. to recognize gender violence as a basis for asylum, winning a great victory in 2014 when the Board of Immigration Appeal—the highest immigration court in the country—adopted CGRS’s legal theories to issue its first published decision granting asylum based on domestic violence. Following this decision, Bookey traveled to a U.S. detention center for immigrant families in Artesia, New Mexico, to counsel attorneys about how to gain asylum protection for the women and children housed at the facility. Fourteen of the 15 cases she worked on resulted in grants of asylum, and she continues to provide counsel in the appeal of the one denial.

2016 Finalist: Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.


2015 Award Recipient: Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Zachary Norris has been committed to ending mass incarceration for the duration of his career.  Norris’s accomplishments with the Center include winning a jobs-not-jails budget campaign in Alameda County, Calif., that redirected $3 million from traditional criminal justice funding to community investment programs; successfully campaigning against California’s Proposition 6, a 2008 multi-billion dollar bill that would have created tougher criminal sentences for thousands of youths and adults; and launching a national research project on the economic impacts of mass incarceration on families.  Current efforts include campaigns to curb juvenile solitary confinement, reduce prison telephone costs for families of the incarcerated, and eliminate sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

2015 Finalist: Darryl Atkinson, Senior Staff Attorney, Southern Coalition for Social Justice.


2014 Award Recipient: Peter J. Wagner, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Prison Policy Initiative

Peter Wagner co-founded Prison Policy Initiative in 2001 and has helped grow it to a nationally recognized think tank that highlights the pervasive impact that mass incarceration in the U.S. can have on the economy, the electoral process and even interpersonal relationships. Among its numerous achievements, Prison Policy Initiative has led the charge against prison gerrymandering, working with states such as Maryland to end the practice that gives outsized political clout to legislative districts that contain prisons. Wagner has also served as an Instructor at Smith College, teaching courses on constitutional law and the prison industrial complex. In 2013, he was given the Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
2014 Finalist: Barbara Graves-Poller, Supervising Attorney, MFY Legal Services, Inc.


2013 Award Recipient: Kara L. Hartzler, Attorney, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.; Member, Board of Directors, ACS San Diego Lawyer Chapter

Kara L. Hartzler served as an appellate attorney at the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.  She specialized in the immigration consequences of criminal convictions while working as Legal Director and Criminal Immigration Consultant at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona and is the author of Surviving Padilla: A Defender’s Guide to Advising Noncitizens on the Immigration Consequences of Criminal Convictions.  In 2008, Hartzler testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration on the detentionand deportation of citizens and other due process violations in the immigration system. She is also an active playwright whose plays have been performed and published in the United States and internationally. At the Convention’s Carliner Award announcement, Hartzler said, “Immigration law is not just about people coming to the United States, it’s about how we treat them once they get there. And in that respect we still have a long way to go.”

Kara Hartzler reflected on the award at ACSblog and in the interview below.


2012 Award Recipient: Janson Wu, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders

Janson Wu served as the Staff Attorney at the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, MA.  He was a member of the legal team litigating GLAD’s two cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, one of which won a judgment from a federal appeals court that DOMA is unconstitutional,  and was lead attorney on a variety of successful cases involving transgender rights. Janson is now the Executive Director of GLAD.

2012 Finalist: Kate Mogulescu, Project Director, Trafficking Victims Legal Defense & Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society NY, Criminal Defense Practice.

2011 Award Recipient: Dori Rose Inda, Watsonville Law Center

Dori Rose Inda founded the Watsonville Law Center in 2002 after identifying a critical gap in legal services in the Watsonville, Calif. area. She has since developed an innovative health access project to ensure low-wage workers injured on the job receive legally required health and financial benefits.


2010 Award Recipient: Cathleen Caron, Global Workers Justice Aliance

Cathleen Caron, founder and director of Global Workers Justice Alliance, was recognized in 2010 for her important work to combat worker exploitation and to promote transnational "portable justice" for workers around the world.

2010 Finalists: Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates Inc.; Belinda Helzer, ACLU Foundation of Southern California; Marco Simons, EarthRights International; Janson Wu, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.


2009 Award Recipient: Tim Freilich, Legal Aid Justice Center

Tim Freilich serves as Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, VA. Under his direction, the program works to support day laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers in the region and promotes justice and fair treatment in the workplace.

2009 Finalists: Ahilan Arulanantham, ACLU of Southern California; Mónica Ramírez, Southern Poverty Law Center; Shirin Sinnar, Asian Law Caucus; McGregor Smyth, The Bronx Defenders.