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Law Alumni Society honors outstanding alumni with the 2017 Annual Alumni Awards

October 27, 2017

On October 26, the Law School honored seven University of Pennsylvania Law School graduates for their career achievements, pro bono work, service to the legal profession, and service to the school.

Included in the group were the former Associate Dean for Graduate Programs for Penn Law; a former public defender, now law firm associate, who is actively engaged in pro bono practice; an attorney with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights; a Penn Professor and the academic director of a nonprofit think tank dedicated to preventing child abuse; the former Executive Partner at Skadden and the former head of firm’s pro bono program; a litigation partner at Dechert and an adjunct faculty member at Penn Law; and an alumnus who has served and supported the Law School for decades.

The 2017 Penn Law Alumni Society Award Honorees were:

  • Distinguished Service Award Honoring service to the Law School, Matthew S. Parker L’00, EdD’15
  • Young Alumni Award Honoring the professional achievement of an alumnus/a who has graduated within the past 10 years, Mira E. Baylson L’08
  • Young Alumni Award Honoring the professional achievement of an alumnus/a who has graduated within the past 10 years, Dwayne J. Bensing GED’09, L’12
  • Louis H. Pollak Public Service Award Honoring justice through service to others, Marci A. Hamilton L’88
  • Howard Lesnick Pro Bono Award Honoring a sustained commitment to pro bono and/or public service throughout a private sector career, Robert C. Sheehan L’69
  • Alumni Award of Merit Honoring professional achievement and service to the Law School, Vernon L. Francis L’87
  • James Wilson Award Honoring a lifetime of service to the profession, David Marion W’60, L’63

The Distinguished Service Award, Honoring service to the Law School, was awarded to Matthew S. Parker L’00, EdD’15

Class of 2013 - Professionalism DayMatthew S. Parker was Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Executive Director of Legal Education Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Matt was a beloved figure in the Penn Law community, known for his kindness, intelligence, humor, and generosity.

As head of the Law School’s graduate programs, Matt oversaw the LLM, LLCM, and SJD programs, which bring talented, foreign-trained lawyers to Penn Law for further study. In addition, Matt led the Law School’s newest degree program, the Master in Law, which provides legal education to professionals in fields which intersect with the law, such as health care, finance, and technology. He also oversaw Penn Law’s growing legal education programs, including launching the Law School’s renowned high school program, on-site and off-site programs for lawyers around the world, and online courses and CLE.

Matt was a native of upstate New York and received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1995. He graduated cum laude from Penn Law in 2000 and, following his graduation, clerked for the Honorable Thomas N. O’Neill of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After working as an associate at law firms in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Matt returned to Penn Law in 2005 to serve as Associate Director of Graduate and International Programs. In 2008, he was named Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs. In addition to his work at the Law School, he also earned his EdD in Higher Education Administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in 2015.

Penn Law was truly privileged to have Matt as a member of our community and his impact at the Law School was immeasurable. He was a mentor to the students in our graduate programs and a friend to all. His vision and leadership was instrumental in building programs that contribute to the educational vitality of this institution, and these programs will benefit students and faculty alike for generations to come.

Matt passed away on November 6, 2016. He is survived by his wife Michelle, children Owen and Gwendolyn, brother David, and his parents. Penn Law has established the Matthew S. Parker LLM Student Fund in honor of Matt. The Parker Fund provides critical support to students who experience difficulty due to instability in their homelands, fluctuations in currency, unexpected issues while at Penn, or family issues and other interpersonal concerns.

The Young Alumni Award, honoring the professional achievement of an alumnus/a who has graduated within the past 10 years, was awarded to Mira E. Baylson L’08

Mira E. Baylson is an associate at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. She focuses her practice on white collar defense and investigations. She has extensive experience litigating in both federal and state court. Mira has counseled clients in conducting internal investigations and responding to alleged violations of federal regulations, including the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, RICO conspiracy charges, whistleblower violations, insider trading, and fraud. She also handles class action litigation and is a member of the firm’s Retail Class Actions initiative. Prior to joining the firm, Mira worked as a public defender in Philadelphia. She tried more than one hundred cases to verdict, including several successful jury trials.

Mira was the first recipient of the University of Pennsylvania Law School Fellowship for Social Justice in the Delaware Valley and served as a Developer and Inaugural Fellow for Project Dawn Court, the nation’s first problem-solving court designed for women involved in prostitution. She is active in the community, having co-founded the University of Pennsylvania Law School Women’s Re-entry Legal Services, a student-run clinic which focused on assisting women in Philadelphia with re-entry after incarceration. Mira is a founding member and primary architect of Mentors Empowering Now to Overcome Recidivism, a court-based program that provides a holistic and supportive re-entry experience through mentoring and case management. Mira has an active pro bono practice, in which she seeks out indigent clients in need of support and representation, such as her representation of Juvenile Lifer Norman Bryant, recently released after 32 years of incarceration.

The Young Alumni Award, honoring the professional achievement of an alumnus/a who has graduated within the past 10 years, was awarded to Dwayne J. Bensing GED’09, L’12

Dwayne J. Bensing is a Staff Attorney with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, Metro Region (DC, VA, NC, SC). In this role, he assists the Office in enforcing Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in public education. Dwayne is active with the Office’s Early Complaint Resolution mediation team and the Secretary of the Department of Education’s LGBTQ and Allied Employees affinity group.

Prior to joining ED, Dwayne was a Trial Attorney with the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities Section, focusing on the Section’s desegregation docket as well as discrimination claims by transgender students. In this capacity, Dwayne worked on the trial teams for G.G. v. Gloucester County Public School (the “Gavin Grimm” case) and U.S. vs. North Carolina (the HB 2 Litigation, involving access to restrooms). While at DOJ, Dwayne was the Outreach Co-Chair of the Civil Rights Division’s LGBT Working Group and assisted in drafting the Dear Colleague Letter (the “Trans Guidance” regarding the treatment of Transgender Students in educational settings).

Prior to joining DOJ, Dwayne was an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, in Washington, D.C. While with Fried Frank, Dwayne’s work on two LGBT asylum matters along with his representation of a transgender client in the first federal court case directly addressing Title IX’s application to restrooms led him to be recognized by the LGBT Bar as one of the “Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40.”

Originally from Arkansas, Dwayne majored in Political Science and Communication at the University of Arkansas and was selected as a 2006 Truman Scholar, the nation’s top scholarship for promising students committed to public service. After graduating cum laude, he joined Teach for America and taught middle-school Science and Social Studies in inner-city Philadelphia. After TFA, Dwayne attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School where he interned with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Committee on House Administration in the U.S. House of Representatives. While at Penn, Dwayne co-founded the Penn Civil Rights Law Project, published a comment in, and was Symposium Editor for, the Journal of Constitutional Law, and was President of Penn’s Lambda Law.

In his free time, Dwayne volunteers at his neighborhood public elementary school and is active with the D.C. Education Coalition for Change, an organization aimed at ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline. He has served on the boards of the Liberty City Democrats and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and is currently on the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee. Dwayne lives in Washington, D.C., with his partner of twelve years, Christopher Howland L’10.

The Louis H. Pollak Public Service Award, honoring justice through service to others, was awarded to Marci A. Hamilton L’88

Marci A. Hamilton is the Fox Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA, www.childusa.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit academic think tank at the University of Pennsylvania dedicated to interdisciplinary, evidence-based research to prevent child abuse and neglect. Before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Hamilton was the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Prof. Hamilton has been a vocal and influential critic of extreme religious liberty. Hamilton successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) at the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores (1997), and defeated the RFRA claim brought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against hundreds of child sex abuse survivors in

Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Listecki (7th Cir. 2015). She has represented numerous cities dealing with church-state issues as well as claims brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA). The author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she is also a columnist for Verdict on Justia.com.

Hamilton is the leading expert on child sex abuse statutes of limitations and has submitted testimony and advised legislators in every state where significant reform has occurred. She is the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge University Press), which advocates for the elimination of child sex abuse statutes of limitations. She has filed countless pro bono amicus briefs for the protection of children at the United States Supreme Court and the state supreme courts. Her textbook, Children and the Law, co-authored with Martin Gardner, will be published Fall 2017 by Carolina Academic Press, formerly Lexis/Nexis.

Hamilton has been honored with the 2016 Voice Today, Voice of Gratitude Award; the 2015 Religious Liberty Award, American Humanist Association; the 2014 Freethought Heroine Award; the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award, 2012; the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for outstanding public advocacy and scholarship, 2008; and selected as a Pennsylvania Woman of the Year Award, 2012, among others. She is also frequently quoted in the national media on child sex abuse, statute of limitations issues, constitutional, RFRA, RLUIPA, and First Amendment issues.

Hamilton clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Professor Hamilton is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, BA, summa cum laude; Pennsylvania State University, MA (English, fiction writing, High Honors); MA (Philosophy); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, JD, magna cum laude, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

The Howard Lesnick Pro Bono Award, honoring a sustained commitment to pro bono and/or public service throughout a private sector career, was awarded to Robert C. Sheehan L’69

Robert C. Sheehan oversees (on an emeritus basis) Skadden’s pro bonoprogram, and he serves on the Board of Trustees of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation. He was Executive Partner of Skadden from April 1994 to April 2009. Mr. Sheehan began his career with Skadden in 1969, became a partner in 1978 and of counsel in 2010.

Prior to his tenure as Executive Partner, Mr. Sheehan headed the Skadden Financial Institutions Merger & Acquisition Group, which he had founded. Mr. Sheehan, who has been cited by publications as one of the world’s leading banking lawyers, has represented numerous bank and thrift holding companies, both as acquirers and as targets, in negotiated and unsolicited acquisition transactions. He also has served as counsel for financial institutions in connection with their relations with various state and federal banking regulatory authorities.

In 2012, Mr. Sheehan received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Law Firm Leadership from The American Lawyer magazine. He was named as the recipient of the Judge Learned Hand Award by the American Jewish Committee in 2010. Mr. Sheehan also was honored with the 2009 Laurie D. Zelon Award by the Pro Bono Institute (presented to him in an address by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in recognition of his pro bono service. In 2008, he was the recipient of the St. Thomas More Award by the Lawyers Committee of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund for his leadership and service to the legal profession. In addition, Mr. Sheehan received the Legal Aid Society’s 2005 Servant of Justice Award for his contributions to pro bono causes.

Mr. Sheehan is president of the Joseph. H. Flom Foundation, a member of the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, a member of the Chief Judge’s Advisory Council on the Attorney Emeritus Program, a member of the board of directors of Volunteers of Legal Service, Inc., and a member of the Advisory Board of the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School. He also serves on the Executive Committee of DREAM (formerly known as Harlem RBI) and served as co-chair of its Capital Campaign to build its school in East Harlem.

The Alumni Award of Merit, honoring professional achievement and service to the Law School, was awarded to Vernon L. Francis L’87

Vernon L. Francis is a partner in the litigation department of Dechert LLP, and a member of the firm’s Data Privacy and Cybersecurity practice group. He also teaches a course on the law of defamation as part of Penn Law’s adjunct faculty. Vernon is a member of the American Law Institute, and serves on the Boards of Directors of the Juvenile Law Center, the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, and Leadership Philadelphia.

The James Wilson Award, Honoring a lifetime of service to the profession, David Marion W’60, L’63

David H. Marion is part of a four-generation University of Pennsylvania family which may hold more Penn degrees than any other family, including his father Louis and son Charles who, like David, earned both Wharton and Penn Law Degrees. The 4th generation is represented by two granddaughters, Cameron Hayes, now a sophomore, and Amelia Marion, a freshman.

As a Penn Law student, David was elected Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review, won the Harrison Cup Moot Court competition, and was named to the Order of the Coif Honor Society. He graduated magna cum laude and was elected president of his graduating class.

David has demonstrated his loyalty to Penn Law through years of active service and support. He served as president of the Law Alumni Society and as a member of the Board of Overseers. He taught appellate advocacy as an adjunct professor, and represented Penn at the Salzburg Seminar in America Studies. Since his graduation, he has frequently been an informal advisor and sounding board for the Deans, from Jefferson Fordham to Mike Fitts. For his service to Penn, David has received the University’s Alumni Award of Merit and the Law School’s Distinguished Service Award.

David concentrates practice in business litigation, antitrust and securities class actions, professional liability, First Amendment law and alternate dispute resolution. David acts as both plaintiffs and defense counsel in numerous types of litigation, and his extraordinary record of success has uniquely earned him listing in Best Lawyers in America in six separate practice areas, including “Bet-the-Company” litigation.

David has achieved numerous noteworthy and precedent-setting victories in both federal and state trial courts, and in the U.S. Supreme Court and other state and federal appellate courts. He has been elected by his peers to fellowship in the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

David began his legal career as a law clerk in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania and the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

A former chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and former president of the Philadelphia Lawyers Club, in 2013, David received the prestigious Judge Learned Hand Award, at which time then Dean Fitts described him as “simply one of the finest lawyers Penn Law has produced…[who] sets an astounding example and tremendous precedent for future Penn Law graduates.”