NCJFCJ Recognizes Innovation and Impact With 4th Annual Justice Innovation Awards

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges[1] (NCJFCJ) announced two honorees of the 4th annual Justice Innovation Awards recognizing Innovator of the Year and Impact of the Year recipients: the UNLV Immigration Clinic at the William S. Boyd School of Law[2] in Las Vegas, Nev.; and the Honorable Donna Schmalberger from the Denver Juvenile Court and the Honorable Katherine Delgado from the 17th Judicial District Court. The honorees were recognized at the NCJFCJ’s 81st Annual Conference highlighting current and innovative topics and social issues, precipitating discussions about challenges facing the juvenile and family court system.

The Innovator of the Year Award honors an active, in-good-standing NCJFCJ member who has inspired, sponsored, promoted or led an innovation or accomplishment of national significance in juvenile justice, child abuse and neglect, family law, and/or domestic violence. The Impact of the Year Award recognizes, from the Annual Conference-host state (Colo.), an individual, state/local court, law firm, advocacy group, or service provider who has been instrumental in leading or implementing significant improvements or innovations which advance the mission of the NCJFCJ.

“It is the NCJFCJ’s honor to recognize the outstanding work of both the UNLV Immigration Clinic team at William S. Boyd Law School and Judges Donna Schmalberger and Katherine Delgado,” said Judge John J. Romero, Jr. NCJFCJ president. “We recognize their tireless commitment to serving vulnerable populations—immigrant and Native children and families—especially those who find themselves in our justice system. We hope that we can continue to raise awareness of these core issues that affect our nation’s families.”

The William S. Boyd School of Law is an organizational member of the NCJFCJ, and its UNLV Immigration Clinic trains student attorneys to defend people in deportation proceedings, allowing them the opportunity to provide innovative ways to offer legal services to immigrants in Nevada. The clinic serves as a resource of undocumented and DACAmented students.

Statistics show that only 37 percent of immigrants in deportation proceedings have lawyers, and immigrants who had a lawyer were 15 times more likely to avoid deportation. The UNLV Immigration Clinic offers direct representation to as many of these children as it can, and trains other pro bono lawyers to do the same. This project began in 2014, when the clinic was the first law school in the country to take advantage of a new Americorps program to provide legal aid to prevent unaccompanied children from having to defend themselves in immigration court alone. The clinic works closely with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to represent unaccompanied children in both family court and in their immigration cases.

Dr. Rebecca Nathanson, Associate Dean for Experiential Legal Education, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and Claudia Noriega-Bernstein, Marketing Director, Edward M. Bernstein & Associates were present to accept the award (pictured above).

“The UNLV Immigration Clinic is a champion for those who might otherwise not have a voice or representation,” said U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). “Their work changes lives and strengthens our communities. I am thrilled to see this organization and its mission recognized and celebrated for its groundbreaking work. The UNLV Immigration Clinic is an example of the world-class education students receive at UNLV and demonstrates the commitment UNLV Law students have to standing up for others in Nevada. The Immigration Clinic’s dedication to fighting for families and children with the toughest immigration cases remains incredibly important, especially now.”

Judges Donna Schmalberger and Katherine Delgado pioneered the establishment of an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Specialized Court in the Denver Juvenile and Adams County District Courts. The Denver area is considered a “relocation city” under the 1956 Indian Relocation Act where Native Americans who had been removed from their tribal reservations were placed in non-Native American adoptive homes. With the help of two Colorado Native American leaders, Sheldon Spotted Elk and Lucille Echo Hawk, they established important connections with tribal judges and leaders. In 2017, they began hearing their first cases transferred from intake courtrooms and dedicated two afternoons of docket time. The judicial commitment to collaboration with the tribes underlies the success of this program that was implemented nearly 40 years after Congress first enacted ICWA.

About the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ):

Founded in 1937, the Reno, Nev.-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, is the nation’s oldest judicial membership organization and focused on improving the effectiveness of our nation’s juvenile and family courts. A leader in continuing education opportunities, research, and policy development in the field of juvenile and family justice, the 2,000-member organization is unique in providing practice-based resources to jurisdictions and communities nationwide.


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