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Gina Clayton (J.D. ’10) has been awarded a seed grant to establish Essie Justice Group in San Francisco, California. Essie Justice Group will work nationally to engage women with incarcerated loved ones, creating a community in which women are united, trained, and empowered to advocate against mass incarceration, which negatively impacts the financial and psychological well-being of the women the criminal justice system often leaves behind.

After graduating law school, Gina won an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to represent low-income women in eviction cases at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (“NDS”). At NDS, Gina designed and established the Housing Defense Project, which seeks to curb the impact of criminal justice policies that threaten eviction of families following criminal arrest, charge, or conviction. Gina’s time at NDS helped her to realize “that mass incarceration was the most significant generator of the barriers standing before women and families of color in the U.S. today.” It is with this belief, years of experience in the field of criminal justice, and the inspiration of her great-grandmother Essie Bailey, that Gina was motivated to start Essie Justice Group.

Gina spent two years as a board member on the NAACP National Board of Directors, after having served as the President of her university’s chapter of the organization. Then, during her time at HLS, Gina became involved in several activities on campus; she served as Co Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Civil Right-Civil Liberties Law Review, Social Justice Chair of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and student attorney for the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute. She also completed a term-time internship with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and summer internships at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague and the Public Defender Service in Washington, DC.

After finishing her Equal Justice Works Fellowship in New York City, Gina moved to South America to study Spanish. She then returned to the U.S. and has moved to San Francisco, CA to build Essie Justice Group.

Gina graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California in 2006 with a B.A. in American Studies and a minor in Education.
Gina has also been awarded a 2014 Soros Justice Fellowship and a 2014 Echoing Green Global Fellowship to support her work with the Essie Justice Group.

Lam Ho (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a seed grant to establish the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) in Chicago, Illinois. This new non-profit organization will “bring legal services directly to disadvantaged communities that otherwise do not have access to legal assistance. It will use an innovative practice model, community activism lawyering, to not only provide legal services but also support grassroots activism in the community. This will be accomplished through law clinics located directly in the communities they serve, in collaboration with local activist organizations.” These local partner organizations include Enlace Chicago, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, the Immigrant Youth Justice League and Organized Communities Against Deportation.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Lam joined Chicago’s Legal Assistance Foundation as a staff attorney through the Skadden Foundation Public Interest Fellowship. During his time at LAF, he established and ran 10 community-based clinics providing free legal services to youth and their families on the west side of Chicago. He experienced firsthand the challenges of community lawyering and civil legal services, and was inspired to innovatively confront these challenges through the creation of CALA.

Before joining LAF, Lam was heavily involved in legal services at Harvard Law School, serving as President of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. He also worked as a research/teaching assistant to Professor Lucie White and a student attorney in the Harvard Defenders Program, while participating in several on-campus organizations and activities including the Model Campus Sexual Assault Project, the Big Brother Big Sister Program, the Harvard Law Record, the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, LAMBDA, and the Tennis Club. In his three years at the law school, Lam also worked with two off-campus organizations – Reaching Out Depression in Cambridge and the Gay Straight Alliance in Brockton, MA, which he co-founded when he was in high school – in addition to completing summer internships at the ACLU National Legal Department in New York City, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in Boston, and the Urban Justice Center in New York City. He also founded and ran the HLS Chapter of the Giving Tree, a charity organization he had started as an undergraduate.

Lam received multiple awards during his time at HLS, including the 13th Annual NALP/ PSLawNet (now PSJd) Pro Bono Publico Award; the Gary Bellow Public Service Award; the Maria, Gabriella, & Robert Skirnick Public Interest Fellowship; the HLS Dean’s Award for Community Leadership; the Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award; the Beinecke Scholarship; the Point Foundation Scholarship; the Sonnenschein Scholars Summer Public Interest Fellowship; and the Lenn Thrower ’83 Memorial Fellowship for Research in Queer Studies.

Since finishing his Skadden Fellowship in 2010, Lam has worked as a staff attorney for Equip for Equality, where he represents children with disabilities and their families at all levels of administrative and judicial proceedings in state and federal courts. In 2014, the Governor appointed Lam the Chairperson of the Illinois HIV/AIDS Response Review Panel, a state commission on HIV prevention and treatment in the Illinois prison system. Lam has also been awarded a 2015 Echoing Green Global Fellowship to support his work with the Community Activism Law Alliance.

Lam graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 2001 with an A.B. and M.A. in English. He received his M.St. in English in 2003 from the University of Oxford, after having received the Marshall Scholarship.

Mercedes Montagnes (J.D. ’09) has been awarded a seed grant to support her newly-established non-profit organization, The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), based in New Orleans, Louisiana. PJI advocates for humane, fair, and equal treatment of individuals in the criminal justice system including the abolition of the death penalty In Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the United States, conditions for inmates often fail to meet basic constitutional standards; PJI works to address these conditions through targeted impact litigation, individual representation, and policy reform. For example, in the organization’s first year, it successfully challenged excessive heat on death row and compelled Louisiana to disclose its execution plan in the wake of drug shortages. In the future, PJI will bring broad-based challenges to create an even greater impact, particularly in the area of the provision of health care to inmates across the state.

Since 2012, Mercedes has worked at the Capital Appeals Project (CAP) in New Orleans where she is now the Deputy Director. Mercedes started at CAP on a Harvard Law School organization-based fellowship. Before she began at CAP, Mercedes served as a law clerk to Judge Carl J. Barbier of the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans and to Judge Roger L. Gregory of the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia.

Mercedes has shown a passion for the criminal justice system since her time at Harvard Law School, where she worked as a student attorney for the Massachusetts Prisoners’ Legal Services and the Criminal Justice Institute. She was also the President of the Harvard Law and Policy Review, contributor at Warren Reports and Talking Points Memo Café, Vice President of the American Constitution Society, and coordinator for the Hurricane Katrina Legislative Tracking Project. She also received multiple honors, including the Vorenberg Fellowship and the Myer Dana and Etta Dana Scholarship.

As an HLS student, Mercedes completed three summer internships including: the law offices of Robert McDuff in Jackson, MS; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, DC; and the Orleans Public Defender in New Orleans, a city which would soon become her home and the home of PJI.

Mercedes graduated from Barnard College in 2005 with a B.A. in Urban Studies.