Higher calling


Recent U-M Law grad awarded Fellowship in Juvenile Justice

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Jessica Gingold, a May graduate from the University of Michigan Law School, will head to Georgetown Law School this fall as a Prettyman Fellow in the Juvenile Justice Clinic.

"I've always loved mentoring and teaching," she says. "As a Fellow, I'll receive excellent training and experience as a public defender for both adults and youth and also be able to mentor law students in their cases during the second year.

"Throughout my career I hope to do juvenile public defense, policy reform work, and teach. I want to spend my career listening to young people and ensure they are heard and respected by those in power, whether in individual cases in the courtroom or on the systemic level."

Gingold, who holds an undergrad degree in sociology from Colorado College, has been passionate about helping youth since her job at the nonprofit Mikva Challenge, dedicated to engaging youth in politics and civic activism.

"I fell in love with working with high school students and I became enraged by how often the systems that are supposed to serve them actually fail them," she says.

Determined to ensure youth voices are heard by those in power, Gingold pursued a master's in education from Harvard and then a law degree from U-M Law, where at her recent graduation she was one of two recipients of the prestigious Henry M. Bates Memorial Scholarship Award, presented to outstanding seniors, with account taken for scholarship in legal studies, personality, character, extracurricular interests, and promise of a distinguished career.

"Michigan Law has been an incredible place for me," she says. "My professors and peers pushed me intellectually while always supporting me as I followed my own passions. I loved that I never had to stop being active in the larger community while being a law student."

One of her proudest accomplishment was co-founding the MLaw Student Rights Project (SRP), a collaboration with the social work school and local nonprofit Student Advocacy Center (SAC) that provides interdisciplinary teams of advocates for students throughout Southeast Michigan who are facing suspension and expulsion.

"Through my advocacy with students, I learned that often schools want to do the right thing, but may be too busy to fully comprehend the issues at stake," she says. "Advocates can serve an essential role in ensuring the voices of the most marginalized students are heard and minimizing the time students are excluded from school."

She recalls a 6th grade student suspended 26 times by March. Instead of looking to the root cause trauma and ADHD, the school sought to expel the girl.

"We were able to show they had an obligation to test her for special education eligibility," Gingold says.

After testing, the school instituted an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

"It's unlikely this would have been the outcome absent advocates," says Gingold.

Nine months at the MLaw Juvenile Justice Clinic gave Gingold her first taste of being a lawyer.

"While it was fun to be in court and negotiate with the prosecutor, the clients were by far the best part of the experience," she says. "It was in JJC that I fully comprehended what it meant to be a young person's lawyer-balancing the roles of counselor, youth worker, and zealous advocate is not easy, but incredibly rewarding."

She also worked on a "juvenile life without parole" case.

"This is an exciting time to be doing juvenile work as the Supreme Court continues to scale back what is constitutionally permissible in sentencing youth," she says. "While the case I worked on was unsuccessful, I learned a lot about the law and strategy. I'm currently assisting on another case while I study for the bar."

Serving as Symposium Editor for the Michigan Journal of Race & Law, she organized "Innocent Until Proven Poor: Fighting the Criminalization of Poverty," one of the largest symposia the law school has held. She also was involved with TALK, a student organization bringing together law students to tell the stories of their lives and engage in conversation.

Gingold interned for nine weeks in 2014 at the Children's Law Center in Covington, Ky., where Executive Director Kim Tandy had been an early mentor. The Law Center's work covers Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana; Gingold's project was a statewide survey in her native Ohio of the re-entry services for youth leaving juvenile prisons and the role public defenders could play in the process.

"I got to ride along with parole officers who really did care about the young people they served, do focus groups of youth, meet with judges and public defenders and really dig into the issues from all sides," she says.

She also interned with Judge Linda Teodosio in Summit County, Ohio, where she was moved by the judge's approach at the juvenile court, an early adopter of the Casey Foundation Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.

"Judge Teodosio is innovative and believes all young people deserve a real chance," she says. "She has taken on restorative justice prevention initiatives in communities. She rarely sends kids away from the community, and when she does she remains engaged in their lives, always rooting for success."

Gingold spent last summer clerking at the nonprofit Louisiana Center for Children's Rights in New Orleans, that provides holistic public defense for juveniles in Orleans parish, and post-conviction and re-entry advocacy in select counties while also leading statewide juvenile justice policy reform efforts.

"I've dreamed of starting a multi-faceted youth organization, and wanted to see how LCCR worked in practice," she says. "I was amazed by the quality of advocacy and the number of people who were involved in each and every case. Each client I worked with had a criminal defense lawyer, access to a civil lawyer, a social worker, and a youth advocate. We considered all of their needs, not just their legal needs."

A semester at the Center for Public Research and Leadership at Columbia University in New York City, in an interdisciplinary program with law, business, education, and policy students, gave Gingold the opportunity to think about various approaches to changing complex social systems and closely examine the role of law in the process of change.

"I enjoyed reconnecting with some of the content I had learned during my master's program - understanding that while I believe law is often necessary for making change happen within entrenched, often racist, systems, it's not sufficient without strong organizational leadership, implementation, community organizing and consistent quality assessment and improvement," she says.

The Cincinnati native, who loves to travel, be outdoors, and spend time with friends and family, enjoys yoga and bicycling and has done several long bicycle tours, mostly on a tandem bicycle with her father.

"I love to blog while we ride," she says. "Our latest ride was last May, when we rode from Cincinnati to New Orleans by way of Ferguson, and raised money for criminal and juvenile justice reform."

Published: Tue, Jun 14, 2016