2010 Peter M. Cicchino Award Winners

The Annual Peter M. Cicchino Awards for Outstanding Advocacy in the Public Interest program is held every year in honor of a beloved former Washington College of Law Professor, Peter M. Cicchino, who passed away in 2000. Professor Cicchino was both a brilliant scholar and teacher, and a brave and creative public interest lawyer.

The program honors a current student who has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to public interest during their time on campus.  There are also two alumni awards for remarkable public interest work, both domestically and internationally.

“The law school has a longstanding commitment to public service and societal engagement, and this commitment is an essential component of our law school’s educational mission,” says WCL Dean Claudio Grossman. “An event like the Peter Cicchino Awards is a tremendous opportunity to continue this tradition while celebrating Peter’s legacy.”

Alumni Winner, International Focus – Cathleen Caron ‘00

In 1997, Cathleen Caron arrived at the law school with a strong background in international human rights.  She had worked in Guatemala for over three years, assisting Guatemalan lawyers in domestic human rights litigation, researching the needs of internally displaced persons in urban squatter settlements, and directing a regional indigenous rights program for the United Nations.

While on campus, she was active in the National Lawyers Guild and the Public Interest Auction, among other activities.  She won the very first Peter Cicchino award in her final year in 2000, and Peter M. Cicchino himself was there for the celebration.  Cicchino was a beloved and respected professor at American University Washington College of Law, who fought terminal cancer before succumbing in 2000.  He demonstrated a strong devotion to public interest law, and the award bears his name in respect for his dedicated career.

“Having him present the award and being able to thank him for that was wonderful,” Caron said.  “He had such a large presence on campus and it was such a great honor.”

Ten years later, Caron has earned the alumni award for her international work at Global Workers Justice Alliance, an organization dedicated to defending the rights of migrant workers. 

She helped found the organization in response to seeing migrant workers being shut out of the justice system because they went home to their families – missing out on legally owed wages.

Caron has dubbed the work as “portable justice” – bringing together advocates on both sides of the border to ensure that workers aren’t forced to abandon their rights upon leaving for their home countries. 

Caron met with Dean Claudio Grossman when forming Global Workers and has maintained a close relationship with the school ever since. 

“It’s a great place to foster a career in human rights and public interest law,” Caron said. 

Alumni Winner, Domestic Focus – Sheila Bedi ‘01

Sheila Bedi ’01, another alumni winner of the Peter Cicchino Public Interest Award, works as a deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center and is responsible for handling issues out of the Center’s Mississippi and Louisiana offices. 

She has extensive experience in civil rights litigation, community-based advocacy campaigns and legislative advocacy.

As a former co-director of the SPLC’s Mississippi Youth Justice Project, she played a key role in permanently closing a notoriously abusive girls’ prison and in advocating for reforms that significantly reduced the number of children imprisoned in Mississippi’s training schools and established community-based alternatives to incarceration

Bedi advocates for juvenile justice reform, fighting against abusive conditions in detention centers and working to improve training for public defenders representing juveniles. 

She looks back at her time at the law school for fostering an interest in the rights of juveniles, and the larger societal impact that a career in the public interest can make.

“I credit Professors Susan Bennett, Angela Davis, and Brenda Smith for showing me that juvenile justice reform is on the front lines of racial justice in this country,” Bedi says. 

Student Winner – Caleb Medearis ‘10

When 2010 Peter Cicchino Public Service Award student winner Caleb Medearis ’10 looks at American University Washington College of Law, he doesn’t just see a law school.  He sees an opportunity to get involved.

“I think a lot of students just see it as a school, a place to go to class,” said Medearis.  “When you’re at a place, why not do everything you can to make it better.”

This attitude shows why he has spent his time here actively engaged in a wide range of student groups, tackling a variety of issues he felt were important to improving the student experience.

Medearis was a member of the Public Interest Student Coalition, created to develop a community of public interest students and alumni and to advocate for their interests.  The group lobbied for and secured additional law school funding for the Public Interest Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which helps with the cost of law school for graduates working for under-represented or traditionally marginalized populations.

He has worked for women’s rights on campus, both in the Women and the Law Program and as a student attorney in the Women and the Law Clinic, and has been a board member of the Women’s Law Association.  Last year he was a producer of the American University Washington College of Law’s production of The Vagina Monologues and the group donated 90% of its ticket proceeds to the DC Rape Crisis Center.

He helped form and sat on the board of the Student Health Advisory Committee, working directly with the Student Health Center.  He also was active in the formation of the Office of Career and Professional Development Student Advisory Committee, providing student feedback and voicing concerns for students who are entering the job market, and served as head of the Finance Committee for the Student Bar Association, striving to ensure that all student organizations have the funds they need to carry out their respective missions.

The long list of Medearis’ activities shows that there isn’t much the third-year student hasn’t been involved with as a law student. 

“When I leave this school, these people are going to be my network,” Medearis said.  “I want to make this place better for them too.” Close

The 11th Annual Peter M. Cicchino Awards will take place on Tuesday, April 13 from 6:30 – 9 p.m. in the 6th floor Student Lounges of the American University Washington College of Law.