Peter M. Cicchino Public Service Awards

The Peter M. Cicchino Awards for Outstanding Advocacy in the Public Interest are given annually to three persons during the Cicchino Public Service Awards Dinner: a current second or third-year WCL student, an alumnus or alumna whose work is primarily in the United States, and an alumnus or alumna whose work is primarily abroad or in international law. The Cicchino Awards recognize and honor those students and alumni whose devotion to, and creative service in, the public interest exemplify the highest ideals of the Washington College of Law.

Nomination Packet

The deadline to complete a nomination packet for the 2014 awards was March 3, 2014. The packets for the 2015 awards will likely be posted in January of 2015.

Peter M. Cicchino

Peter M. Cicchino was an Assistant Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law (WCL), where he taught Constitutional Law, Torts, Jurisprudence, and Sexual Orientation and the Law. He joined the WCL faculty in 1998 after a distinguished career in public interest law.  He founded and directed the Lesbian and Gay Youth Project of the Urban Justice Center, and, in that capacity for four years, provided legal representation for lesbian and gay street youth in New York City. He also served as a staff attorney in the national office of the ACLU and clerked for Justice Alan Handler of the New Jersey Supreme Court. 

In January 2000, the WCL faculty voted unanimously (with Professor Cicchino abstaining) to create these public interest awards in his name.  Professor Cicchino was a cherished figure at WCL and in the national public interest law community. He passed away on July 8, 2000.

Cicchino Public Service Awards Dinner

This annual event is held in honor of beloved former WCL Professor Peter M. Cicchino, who passed away in 2000. Professor Cicchino was a brilliant scholar and teacher, and a brave and creative public interest lawyer, who among many other accomplishments founded the Lesbian and Gay Youth Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City.

The Cicchino Awards Dinner is the academy awards of student public interest and pro bono work. Students are recognized at a sumptuous dinner before their peers, faculty and staff for a variety of awards and accomplishments, including: completion of the Pro Bono Honors Pledge Program, external pro bono and public service awards, post-graduate public interest fellowships, and the Cicchino Awards themselves.

The Fifteenth Annual Cicchino Public Service Awards Dinner will be held on April 17, 2014 from 6:30PM-9:00PM. The keynote speaker at this year’s dinner will be Kevin Ryan, the President and CEO of Covenant House International, one of the largest charities in North and Central America serving homeless, trafficked and sexually exploited youth. Mr. Ryan was a personal friend of Peter Cicchino.  Please click on the following link for complete details and instructions on how to register to attend the dinner: Registration

The winners of the 2014 Peter M. Cicchino Awards for Outstanding Advocacy in the Public Interest are the following individuals:

  • Winner in the Category of Current Washington College of Law Student: Christiane Cannon, ‘14
  • Winner in the Category of Alumna or Alumnus Whose Work is Primarily in the United States: James A. Ferg Cadima, '01
  • Winner in the Category of Alumna or Alumnus Whose Work is Primarily Abroad or in International Law: Kelly Heinrich, '02

The Public Interest Entrepreneur Award is not awarded every year. Rather, it is awarded when an exceptional student or student group has developed an independent project that demonstrates a creative approach to a pressing social justice issue, addresses the identified issue, and fills a gap in the need for legal services. Click on this link to learn more information about the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award and its recipients.

2012-2013 Peter M. Cicchino Public Service Award Recipients


EmilyRose Johns , WCL Class of 2013

Winner in Category of Current Washington College of Law Student

EmilyRose Johns was raised in Sacramento, California and Seattle, Washington by her father after the passing of her mother at age five. Growing up, EmilyRose learned about social justice and public service through her father’s stories about his work as a civil rights activist in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Her father understood the power of protest and civil disobedience and he passed those values on to EmilyRose at an early age. He taught her to be outraged at and outspoken about injustice. He encouraged her to stand up for the disenfranchised.

Throughout grade school, EmilyRose fought against oppressive school policies and demanded transparency from the administration. And she fell in love with the First Amendment as a mechanism for social justice. In college, EmilyRose studied journalism in pursuit of a platform for social change. But it wasn’t until attending the American University Washington College of Law that she met the humans who would radicalize her views and her approach to law. Many of those include past Cicchino Award recipients, and she is truly honored to be included in the ranks of such incredible and dedicated lawyers and activists.

During her time at WCL, EmilyRose has held leadership positions in many students groups focused on educating and mobilizing the WCL community. In 2011 and 2012, EmilyRose co-led service trips to New Orleans that allowed WCL students to perform legal and community services in a city with exceptional need. She was a board member of the Equal Justice Foundation in 2012, and her work contributed to the funding of public interest grants for WCL students. While serving on the board of the National Lawyers Guild and as president of the Women’s Law Association, she helped organize events and facilitate conversations about maintaining personal integrity in the practice of law.

Additionally, she has been an active member in the DC community. Through the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, EmilyRose has taught for the last year and a half at Anacostia High School. Last summer and fall, she worked with the DC Prisoners Project advocating for the humane and dignified treatment of prisoners in the DC jails and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She is currently interning at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.

Her roots are very important to her. Every year, EmilyRose returns to Seattle to spend a week at Stanley Stamm Children’s Hospital Camp as a camp counselor for children who are patients of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Following graduation, she will be return to California to do prisoners’ rights work in her home state. She will join her wonderful husband Zachary, whose endless energy and unwavering support makes the work she gets to do a possibility and a pleasure.

Gary C. Norman , WCL LL.M. Class of 2011

Winner in Category of Alumna or AlumnusWhose Work is Primarily in the United States

An attorney, a dispute resolution professional, and a visible civic leader with a disability, Gary C. Norman is changing attitudes and perceptions about guide dog handlers.  In his current day-to-day work, Mr. Norman serves as an Assistant Attorney Advisor at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  In this role, he is a staff counselor to the Administrator on reimbursement appeals.  He is also a federal mediator, helping parties to resolve workplace disputes.  In 2009, Governor O’Malley appointed Mr. Norman to the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, where he is serving his second full term as an Associate Civil Rights Commissioner.  At the Commission, Mr. Norman is the holder of portfolios on disability issues and dispute resolution.  Moreover, Mr. Norman has co-founded a new non-profit named the Mid-Atlantic Lyceum whose purpose is bringing people with diverse perspectives (from the left and the right) for dialogue and improved decision-making.

Mr. Norman is interested in the intersections among animal law, disability law, healthcare law, and dispute resolution; being hopeful that tools like public policy facilitation might be applied to address healthcare disparities.  A legal scholar skilled with letters, Mr. Norman has published prolifically in such law journals as his forthcoming article with Joshua L. Friedman in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.  Recognizing his genius and creativity, the Center on Medicine and Law at the University Of Baltimore School Of Law has consequently selected Gary to be its Senior Advisor.  Thus, he served, in 2012, as a briefer on disability law at the WCL Healthcare Law Project’s Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender, and Human Rights.

Mr. Norman is admitted before the United States Supreme Court, in Maryland, and in Ohio.  In 2011, Gary obtained his post graduate law degree or Masters in Letters of Law from the Washington College of Law, where he also earned certificates in administrative law and healthcare law.  While attending to his post graduate studies as a working professional, Mr. Norman involved himself in the student life of the law school, serving as Secretary of the LL.M. Executive Board and speaking at a bi-annual conference on law students with disabilities.  Notably, he completed his first year of the LLM with his first guide dog Langer (now since retired) and completed his second year with his current guide Pilot.  In 2009, the United States Jaycees recognized Mr. Norman as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans.  A native of the greater Cleveland area, Mr. Norman obtained his J.D. from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  He is sincerely thankful for the partnership of his wife Laura N. Norman, L.C.S.W.-C. And for the support and affection of his surrogate family members, such as Debra T. Berube, Esq. and Tom E. Rogers, M.S.

Lisa Piper , WCL Class of 1999

Winner in Category of Alumna or Alumnus Whose Work is Primarily Abroad or in International Law

Lisa K. Piper graduated from WCL’s J.D. program in 1999. After graduation, she represented children and their best interests in criminal, civil, and abuse and neglect cases in northern Virginia’s Juvenile & Domestic Relations Courts. In 2004, Ms. Piper closed her law practice and moved to Kabul, Afghanistan to coordinate a teacher training project for the Academy of Educational Development.In 2005, Ms. Piper began working for Save the Children, based in northern Afghanistan. In addition to managing programs in health and nutrition for all of its northern offices, she applied her knowledge as a child advocate to Save the Children’s child protection and education programs. In Afghanistan, children are forced to quickly grow up and childhood is often a luxury. As a response, Ms. Piper managed programs that educated parents and communities on how to meet their children’s developmental needs as well as programs designed to develop children’s critical thinking skills. Through these activities, Afghan children had safe and protective environments where they could learn, grow, and help resolve problems in their communities. In 2009, Ms. Piper moved to La Paz, Bolivia to be Save the Children’s Deputy Director for Programs. In Bolivia, she managed a small yet high impact project focused on children in conflict with the law. That project successfully raisedawareness regarding the difficult situation of incarcerated children and youth. As a result, the Bolivian Ministry of Justice invited Save the Children to provide recommendations for needed changes to its Juvenile and Adolescent Code. In 2011, after a year in Pakistan with the International Rescue Committee as Director of Programs, Ms. Piper returned to Afghanistan. She is currently serving as the Country Director for War Child Canada, managing programs in early childhood development, improved livelihoods opportunities for women, and youth empowerment and skills development.

Click on this link to view previous Peter M. Cicchino Public Service Award recipients.

2012-2013 Public Interest Entrepreneur Award Recipient


Talila A. Lewis, WCL Class of 2014

Talila A. Lewis is the founder and director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf ("HEARD"), an all-volunteer nonprofit civil rights organization that promotes equal access to the legal system for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. HEARD's mission is to identify and remove barriers that prevent the deaf from participating in and having equal access to the justice system. HEARD’s volunteers investigate possible deaf wrongful conviction cases, educate justice professionals about Deaf Culture, conduct deaf prisoner and defendant research, and assist deaf and deaf-blind prisoners with access and civil rights issues. HEARD created and maintains a comprehensive deaf and deaf-blind prisoner database that includes information on more than four hundred deaf prisoners across the nation. This database informs HEARD's advocacy and helps ensure that deaf prisoners have contact with community members (through a unique pen pal project), and that they receive equal access to programs and services at jails and prisons across the nation. HEARD works steadfastly to build coalitions; educate and activate the masses; and to encourage and facilitate collective leadership within the community.

At WCL, Ms. Lewis organizes events in her capacity as Co-Director or the WCL chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and Co-Founder of the WCL Disability Law Society to engage the WCL community in meaningful dialogue and action focused on criminal justice reform and disability rights advocacy, being certain always to include the voices of survivors and marginalized community members. She has organized events about surviving death row, wrongful conviction, solitary confinement, barriers to successful reentry, forced institutionalization, prisoner abuse, and the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. She also teaches students and faculty American Sign Language.

This semester, Ms. Lewis designed a pilot program that extends the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Program to high school students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Next year, she will lead the implementation of this pilot program at Model Secondary School for the Deaf, the high school for deaf and hard of hearing students on Gallaudet University's campus.

Click on this link to learn more information about the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award and past recipients.