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 AUWCL 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 American University Washington College of Law.

Nomination Packet

The deadline to complete a nomination packet for the 2015 awards is March 6, 2015.

Peter M. Cicchino

Peter M. Cicchino was an Assistant Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), where he taught Constitutional Law, Torts, Jurisprudence, and Sexual Orientation and the Law. He joined the AUWCL 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 AUWCL faculty voted unanimously (with Professor Cicchino abstaining) to create these public interest awards in his name.  Professor Cicchino was a cherished figure at AUWCL 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 AUWCL 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 Sixteenth Annual Cicchino Public Service Awards Dinner will be held on Thursday, April 23, 2015. 

Please see below for the profiles of the Cicchino Award winners at the 2014 dinner. No Public Interest Entrepreneur Award was given in 2014, as that distinction 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. Please read below for details about the 2013 winner of the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award, Talila Lewis. In addition, click on this link to learn more information about the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award and its recipients.

2013-2014 Peter M. Cicchino Public Service Award Recipients


Christine Cannon, AUWCL Class of 2014

Winner in Category of Current Washington College of Law Student

Christiane Cannon is indebted to family, who instilled an early belief that humans deserve love and respect by virtue of our shared humanity; and to mentors, who continue to illuminate paths for putting that principle into action. As a WCL student, Christiane led an alternative break trip to Navajo Nation during which she encouraged her peers to learn from community members about Navajo history, astrology, and governance as they provided pro bono service. She has endeavored to develop advocacy skills through a dean’s fellowship for the late-Professor Andrew Taslitz, Mock Trial Honor Society, and the Disability Rights Law Clinic. Christiane also completed internships with the United States District Court, Advancement Project, and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. However, Christiane’s most significant contribution to the WCL community has come through participation and leadership in Students United for Youth Justice, a WCL organization that was co-founded by previous Cicchino Award Recipients, Whitney Louchheim and Penelope Spain. Through Students United, Christiane has encouraged her peers to creatively mentor DC youth who are deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system. Her advocacy skills have led Students United to nearly doubled its resources, allowing for more effective mentoring relationships, pro bono opportunities, and professional development events centered on youth advocacy. Later this year, Christine will begin her legal career at the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender in Newark.

James A. Ferg-Cadima, AUWCL Class of 2001

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

James A. Ferg-Cadima, a native of the District of Columbia, has built his career on defending and advancing civil rights and civil liberties. Jim is Regional Counsel for the Washington, DC office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which shapes legislative and regulatory matters at the federal level and litigates high-impact cases on behalf of Latinos living in the Southeast in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and voting rights. He is active in various civil rights efforts. Jim currently co-chairs the Education Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right, a coalition of 200 civil rights organizations, and the Immigration Committee and the Membership Committee of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a convening of thirty-seven Latino organizations from across the country. He serves on the board of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the only national organization dedicated to Latina reproductive justice, and the Campaign for High School Equity, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation project dedicated to the college and career readiness of high school students of color. Before rejoining MALDEF in 2010, he served as legislative counsel for the ACLU of Illinois; as a judicial clerk for the Northern District of Illinois; and as a racial justice fellow at the Advancement Project. Jim received his Juris Doctor from the Washington College of Law (WCL) in 2001. During his time at WCL, Jim was part of the inaugural class of Marshall-Brennan Fellows teaching constitutional literacy in DC public schools and a law clerk at MALDEF. As a law student at MALDEF, he drafted an early version of what is known today as the DREAM Act, federal legislation that, if enacted, would create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth and young people. Harvard Law School awarded him a Wasserstein Fellowship in 2008 and the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia awarded him the Hugh A. Johnson, Jr. Memorial Award in 2012, both in recognition of his dedication to public interest law. .

Kelly Hyland Heinrich, AUWCL Class of 2002

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

Kelly is co-founder of the Global Freedom Center, a nonprofit social entrepreneurship training thousands of government, nonprofit and private sector professionals to identify and prevent human trafficking. She advises Fortune 500 corporations on practices and policies that prevent human trafficking, impacting global supply chains and workers worldwide. Previously, she served as Senior Counsel in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State, where she advised on immigration, diplomatic immunity, law enforcement, gender, workers’ rights, rule of law, foreign trafficking legislation, and U.S. implementation efforts. She also worked on the issue through her own consulting firm Humanatis LLC, the Clinton-era President’s Interagency Task Force on Women, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and a U.S. based nonprofit, where she assisted hundreds of trafficked persons. Additionally, Kelly directed a national project on sexual violence against farm workers for California Rural Legal Assistance and has worked on behalf of refugees, immigrant crime victims, and children in low-income families during her public interest career.

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

2012-2013 Public Interest Entrepreneur Award Recipient

Talila A. Lewis, AUWCL 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.