For Immediate Release
Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts
Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts
email@example.com · 617-973-6666
WOMEN’S BAR ASSOCIATION ANNOUNCES 2019 LELIA J. ROBINSON AWARD RECIPIENTS
WBA to Honor Deborah Harris and Carmen Ortiz at this year’s Gala Celebration
July 9, 2019 – The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts (WBA) proudly announces its 2019 Lelia J. Robinson Award recipients:
DEBORAH HARRIS and CARMEN ORTIZ
The Lelia J. Robinson Award honors women attorneys who have captured the spirit of Lelia J. Robinson, the first woman admitted to practice in Massachusetts. The award recognizes women who, like Robinson, are pioneers in the legal profession and have made a difference in the community. This year the WBA is proud to recognize two women who are experts in their fields and an inspiration to us all: Deborah Harris and Carmen Ortiz. Both women will be honored at the WBA’s Annual Gala on October 10, 2019 at the Sheraton Boston. The Gala is the WBA’s largest event of the year and is attended by several hundred attorneys, judges, legislators, and business professionals.
“It is our pleasure to recognize Deborah Harris and Carmen Ortiz with our Lelia J. Robinson Award at our 2019 WBA Gala,” said WBA President Jennifer Saubermann. “They are amazing role models who demonstrate the importance of legal work and commitment to community. Deborah Harris was essential to the recent passage of the ‘Lift the Cap on Kids’ legislation, which made a critical difference in the lives of over 8,700 of the lowest income children in Massachusetts. She has dedicated her career to advocating for social and economic justice, benefitting women and children across the Commonwealth. Carmen Ortiz was the first woman and first Hispanic United States Attorney for Massachusetts and was responsible for overseeing some of the most high profile criminal trials over the last two decades. She has also shown a deep commitment to advancing women in the legal profession. Both of these women have made substantial contributions to our Commonwealth and I am honored to present this award to them.”
Deborah is a staff attorney for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), where she specializes in public benefits and child support issues. MLRI is a statewide legal advocacy and support center that represents low income people, defends against policies that harm and marginalize people living in poverty, and advocates for systemic reforms to achieve social and economic justice. She has worked extensively in welfare practice and policy for over 40 years. She was lead counsel in MLRI’s lawsuit that stopped Massachusetts from using stale and erroneous wage records to terminate SNAP benefits and obtained order against the Commonwealth to pay $9.4 million in SNAP benefits to 17,000 households whose benefits were illegally terminated. She is a published author whose works include the TAFDC Advocacy Guide: An Advocate's Guide to Massachusetts Welfare Rules for Families which was first published by MCLE in 1994 and has been republished every year since.
Deborah has worked extensively in welfare practice and policy for over 40 years. This work has encompassed numerous class action and individual lawsuits challenging state or federal welfare rules denying benefits or services as well as advocacy to persuade Congress and the state legislature and state and federal agencies to adopt policies and practices to protect vulnerable populations and promoting economic stability. She also provides technical assistance to legislators and advocates on federal and state laws and regulations regarding welfare and other benefits for low income persons. Recently, she helped lead the successful campaign to repeal the welfare family cap, the state law that denied basic subsistence benefits to children because of when they were conceived.
Georgia Katsoulomitis, MLRI’s Executive Director, said, “Deborah's contributions to poverty law on the national and state level are truly immeasurable. She is a quiet force, usually preferring to work behind the scenes, but is a relentless fighter and fearless advocate for the Commonwealth’s lowest income families and children. All legal aid and poverty advocates speak of our work in terms of justice -- of achieving the right, the just, and the fair outcome for clients. But Deborah also speaks of her work in terms of dignity and power. She believes that a core value of a just society, and of our justice system, is ensuring that the most vulnerable people among us have a voice and are able to live with dignity. She empowers and lifts up the voices of those who are often ignored or forgotten, and speaks truth to power.”
Deborah has a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her publications include Child Support for Welfare Families: Family Policy Trapped in Its Own Rhetoric, 16 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Social Change 619 (1987-88); TAFDC Advocacy Guide: An Advocate’s Guide to the Massachusetts Welfare Rules for Families, MCLE (Dec. 2018; first published in 1994, revised and republished every year since then); and Variations on an Unconstitutional Theme: Restrictions on Interstate Use of Cash Benefits, 47 Clearinghouse Review 1 (May-June 2013) (with J. Schlozman).
Carmen is currently Counsel at Anderson & Kreiger in Boston where she focuses her practice on internal investigations, white-collar criminal defense, corporate compliance, and civil litigation. From 2009 to 2016, she served as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, and was the first woman and first Hispanic to serve in that position. During her tenure, she directed the prosecutions of several notable cases, among them James Whitey Bulger and the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. As U.S. Attorney, protecting the civil rights of the residents of Massachusetts was a top priority for Carmen, and she implemented the District’s first Civil Rights Unit aimed at reinvigorating enforcement of federal civil rights laws. She also broadened the Office’s outreach and engagement efforts, meeting regularly with community groups on a variety of issues to promote public safety, community policing and civil rights.
Prior to becoming U.S. Attorney, Carmen honed her litigation skills as both a federal and state prosecutor, as well as a defense attorney, trying over 60 jury cases to verdict. She was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and also served for eight years as an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County, where she supervised the District Court prosecutors, and prosecuted homicides, sexual assaults and robberies.
In addition to practicing law, Carmen has also spoken extensively on how she was able to break barriers, and frequently offers guidance to other women and people of color interested in pursuing or advancing a career in law.
Anderson & Kreiger, Managing Partner, Dave Mackey said, “The firm is so proud of Carmen and all that she has accomplished and grateful to the WBA for recognizing her skills and leadership.”
Carmen received her law degree from George Washington University Law School, and graduated magna cum laude from Adelphi University. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for Adelphi University, Crossroads for Kids, Discovering Justice and the Massachusetts Women’s Forum; and she is also on the Trustees Advisory Board for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Carmen is a member of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys, the Women’s White-Collar Defense Association and the Hispanic National Bar Association.
About the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts
Founded in 1978 by a group of activist women lawyers, the Women’s Bar Association boasts a vast membership of over 1,600 accomplished women lawyers, judges, and law students across Massachusetts. The WBA is committed to the full and equal participation of women in the legal profession and in a just society. The WBA works to achieve this mission through committees and taskforces and by developing and promoting a legislative agenda to address society’s most critical social and legal issues. Other WBA activities include drafting amicus briefs, studying employment issues affecting women, encouraging women to enter the judiciary, recognizing the achievement of women in the law, and providing pro bono services to women in need through supporting its charitable sister organization, the Women’s Bar Foundation. For more information, visit www.womensbar.org.
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