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Reimagining Justice Series Launches with Discussion on Criminal Justice

On July 16, 2020, Chalak Richards, Assistant Dean for Student Life, Diversity, and Belonging, launched the Reimagining Justice event series, aimed at bringing together students, alumni, faculty, and staff to discuss timely social justice issues.

The first event in the series drew inspiration from "Just Mercy," a movie that highlights the life and efforts of Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama to provide legal representation to indigent defendants challenging their convictions and facing the death penalty. The discussion was facilitated by Dean Richards and featured Pepperdine alumnae and criminal justice practitioners, Rachel Rossi (JD '09) and Shadeequa Smith (LLM '18), as well as rising third-year student, Kelly Shae Delvac.

Delvac began the event by discussing the pivotal role Stevenson's book Just Mercy played in her decision to attend law school in the first place. "I am in law school because of the book," she stated. In describing her current work with the National Registry of Exonerations, she shared, "It is really hard to get someone out once they are inside the system."

Smith, a current Executive FUSE Fellow, is working to provide community-based mental health, job training, and housing services to individuals who have been arrested or are awaiting trial, by managing a collaboration between the Los Angeles County Department of Probation and community stakeholders. An experienced criminal justice advocate, Smith spoke about the dignity of the people and communities she serves saying, "If you haven't already started looking at people who have been impacted as human beings and as people, you need to do that. And then, we must make the necessary reforms to make the process equitable for everyone."

Former public defender and recent candidate for the Los Angeles District Attorney, Rossi spoke about her motivation to run as a progressive candidate for the position and how her work and advocacy on criminal justice issues will continue, including teaching a Criminal Justice course at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. Speaking about her work as a Federal Public Defender and legislative advocate, she stated, "In all of these realms, I was fighting against a prosecutor. I was trying to legislate the prosecutor. And I thought, you know what, what if I was the prosecutor?"

Over fifty participants joined the lively online discussion, which ended with a discussion of ways students and alumni may get involved with these important issues. Aparna Gupta, Associate Director at the Straus Institute who also serves on the School of Law's Diversity Committee, and Jessie Fahy, Director of Alumni Relations, assisted Dean Richards with events in the Reimagining Justice series. The recording may be accessed online by clicking the link here and entering 2F#.JQ*4 as the case-sensitive password. The next Reimagining Justice event will take place in August.