Kamille Bernard ’24 and Lea Kayali ’24 are the recipients of the 2024 Kristin P. Muniz Memorial Award, bestowed in memory of the beloved Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) senior clinical instructor to honor students who exemplify her commitment to justice and superb client-centered representation.

The mission of CJI is to educate Harvard Law School students in becoming effective, ethical and zealous criminal defense lawyer-advocates through practice in representing indigent individuals involved in the Massachusetts court system. This yearly recognition awarded by CJI pays tribute to the late Kristin P. Muniz, whose untimely passing in 2020 was deeply saddening for her colleagues and her numerous former students. For a decade, Muniz passionately served as a criminal defense lawyer, cherished instructor, and trial team coach at CJI. The award honors graduating students who, like Muniz, have shown outstanding commitment to client-centered representation in criminal courts. It recognizes those who have focused their efforts on racial justice and equality, respect for human dignity, fairness, and compassion.

“Kamille Bernard and Lea Kayali, the deserving recipients of the 2024 Kristin P. Muniz Memorial Award, have not only excelled in their roles as advocates but have also made a significant impact on their clients,” commends clinical professor of law Dehlia Umunna, faculty co-director of CJI. “Their commitment and passion for zealous advocacy, outstanding navigation of challenging circumstances, deep understanding of legal strategy, and unwavering dedication to client-centeredness have led to exceptional outcomes for their clients. During their time at CJI, Kamille and Lea embodied the spirit of Kristin, a remarkable and compassionate lawyer, and I am confident that Kamille and Lea will continue to make a difference, just as Kristin did during her career as a public defender.”

Kamille Bernard

“Receiving this award means the world to me,” says Kamille Bernard. “Working with clients in their criminal cases throughout my time at law school has been the greatest honor of my life.”

Bernard has exemplified a passion for public defense throughout her law school years as a student attorney in CJI and avid member of Harvard Defenders, a student practice organization that represents low-income Massachusetts residents in criminal show-cause hearings. Bernard has shown an outstanding commitment to both organizations; after joining CJI for the fall and winter semesters, she continued as an advanced student this spring to see her cases come to fruition. This year, she served as president of Harvard Defenders after serving as community director her 2L year.

“Kamille is an extremely worthy recipient of this award,” says clinical instructor Jesse Grove, Bernard’s supervisor at CJI. “Throughout her time at CJI, she demonstrated a profound dedication to her clients through thorough and exacting advocacy. She is exceptionally thoughtful, planning out her cases to such a significant degree that she cannot help but arrive at positive outcomes. Part of how she is able to do that is by treating her clients like a partner in their own defense, keeping them informed and engaged in the process. She truly embodies the idea that a client-centered approach leads to more effective advocacy.”

While Bernard can boast positive outcomes in her legal representation — from writing and successfully arguing a motion to amend a client’s conditions of release on less than two hours’ notice to securing a dismissal for a client at trial — what she feels most proud of are the relationships built with her clients.

“It’s not lost on me that our clients trust us with so much — they trust us by sharing some of the most personal details in their lives, they trust us to be their voice in the courtroom, and they trust us with their freedom,” she says. “I am so honored that my clients have trusted me with their cases, and I have always done everything I can to be their fiercest advocate. It’s no secret that systemic racism is one bedrock of our criminal legal system. With the exception of two clients, all of my clients in CJI and Defenders have been Black. While disheartening, as a Black woman it has been an honor to represent people who look like me.”

“It has been a true privilege learning how to be an advocate in a community that is so client-centered like CJI,” she adds. “The criminal legal system often tries to silence our clients, and we have the honor of ensuring that their voices are heard.”

Bernard has also participated in the Crimmigration Clinic and the Election Law Clinic. She spent a summer as an intern at the Federal Community Defender Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After graduation, Bernard looks forward to heading to Washington, D.C.

Lea Kayali

“While I never had the honor of knowing her personally, Kristin Muniz was an advocate whose empathy and loving ethic touched all her clients, and all those around her. She was the model of the kind of warrior for justice that I want to be,” says Lea Kayali. “Like Ms. Muniz, I hope to be the kind of person who carries her responsibility of fighting for justice inside and outside of the courtroom. As advocates, we are trying to resuscitate a dying world by injecting it with compassion, resilience, and our vision of justice. I am humbled beyond belief to be recognized in Kristin Muniz’s name, and I hope to carry lessons from her beautiful life into my future.”

Kayali put her passion for public defense into action starting her 1L year as a member of Harvard Defenders, which she has been active in throughout law school. “Lea’s determination, affection for her fellow Defenders, commitment to our clients and ever-present fight for justice for the oppressed was inspirational,” says Defenders clinical instructor John Salsberg.

This year, Kayali found a home on campus in CJI. She recalls the uplifting messages students would leave on the office white board, celebrating successes in each other’s cases, and the unflinching support her clinical instructor offered during an exceptionally challenging year.

“Lea is a dedicated advocate, exhibiting care and consideration for each client, intelligence and inventiveness applied to each case, and tenacity and skill each time she stands up in a courtroom,” says Jesse Grove, Kayali’s supervisor. “She approaches representation with a level of care that reflects a deep respect for people that will serve her and her future clients extremely well throughout her career. When she speaks with someone, she listens carefully for their goals, hopes, and dreams, then she makes their goals her own. Whether that is avoiding a jail sentence or just getting to see pictures of their grandchildren, Lea Kayali goes above and beyond for her clients.”

Kayali has also participated in the International Human Rights Clinic, and she completed an independent clinical project with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS). She spent her 1L summer as an intern at the Movement Law Lab and her 2L summer with the Rhode Island Public Defender.

After graduation, Kayali will continue to walk the path she’s begun to tread in CJI: she will join CPCS as a public defender. “My clinical work at CJI completely shaped the trajectory of my life,” she reflects. “I feel called to public defense and I could not imagine doing anything else. There is nothing more meaningful than the opportunity that public defenders have to earn our clients’ trust. Each day is an opportunity to collaborate with our clients towards a better future, one outside of the violence of a racist carceral system. Being a public defender is an honor: one I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”

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