CLEA Award for 

Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project

CLEA established this award to honor and recognize a case or project that truly contributes to the public good. The award may be given to an individual law student or law students in a clinical program or to a clinic or clinical program.

The criteria for the award are:

  1.  The case or project either: 

  • effectively calls attention to and/or significantly redresses a high priority need of underserved or low income residents or communities; or
  • makes a notable or meaningful contribution to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, legal services for the underrepresented, environmental protection, or consumer protection; and

  2.  The case or project has been carried out in conformity with the highest standards of professional conduct and competence; and

  3.  The case or project serves as an inspiring model for engaging in legal work under challenging conditions in furtherance of the common good.

2021 Award Winner:

CLEA is thrilled to announce that the Irwin County Detention Center Project (a collaboration of six schools’ clinics) is the recipient of the 2021 CLEA Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project. 

The Irwin County Detention Center Project addresses the welfare and legal rights of women detained by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. These women were subjected to non-consensual, medically unindicated, or invasive gynecological procedures at ICDC, many of which amounted to sexual assaults. They suffered severe retaliation when they tried to speak out about these procedures, including actual or attempted accelerated deportation.  

A group of six law school clinicians and clinics formed to help these women: Professors Sabi Ardalan (Harvard Law School); Jason Cade (University of Georgia School of Law); Fatma Marouf (Texas A&M School of Law); Elora Mukherjee (Columbia Law School); Clare Norins (University of Georgia School of Law); and Sarah Sherman-Stokes (Boston University School of Law). Aware of the magnitude of the challenge, they elicited collaborators that included non-profits, private firms, legislative advocates, and community organizers.  

The Project’s advocacy includes a federal class action on behalf of 14 of the women and others similarly situated, immigration proceedings, administrative complaints, and legislative advocacy. The clinics have won stays of deportation for most of the plaintiffs. The Project’s efforts have resulted in the release of nearly all 80 women in ICDC, as well as over 200 men. The work has generated national media coverage and elicited a crucial intervention from 100 members of Congress. Overcoming barriers of geography, access, and the pandemic, the clinics’ work exemplifies the use of multi-faceted strategy and collaborative practice to address a shocking injustice.

The CLEA Awards Committee received numerous outstanding nominations and determined that the following nominations merited an honorable mention. 

  • University of Alabama Domestic Violence Clinic 
  • University of Detroit Mercy Federal  Pro Se Legal Assistance Clinic  
  • Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic 
  • Florida State University College of Law Forced Child Labor Project
  • University of Nebraska College of Law Tenant Assistance Project 
  • West Virginia University College of Law Immigration Clinic 

Prior award recipients:

2020: University of Chicago Law School, Federal Criminal Justice Clinic

2019: University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, Legislation Clinic

2018: Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Health Justice Project

2017: Justice Lab at Temple University Beasley School of Law

2016: University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Civil Rights Clinic; and

Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, Law Reform Advocacy Clinic 

2015: Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics

2014: Charlotte Law School, Civil Rights Clinic's "Ban the Box" Campaign  

2013: CUNY School of Law, CLEAR Project's "Mapping Muslims" Report

2012: Alabama School of Law, Tornado Relief Assistance Project; and

Quinnipiac School of Law, Civil Justice Clinic

2011: Albany Law School, Civil Rights & Disability Law Project

2010: University of Miami School of Law, Health and Elder Law Clinic

2009: University of Washington School of Law, Environmental Law Clinic

2008: Rutgers-Newark School of Law, Constitutional Litigation Clinic

2007: Tulane School of Law, Criminal Law Clinic

2006: Golden Gate University, Southeast San Francisco Energy Project

2005: Florida State University College of Law, Children's Advocacy Center

Maryland School of Law, Walter Henry Arvinger Legal Defense Team

2004: University of Chicago Law School, Police Accountability Project; and

CUNY School of Law, Clinical Programs

2003: University of Miami School of Law, Foster Children’s Mental Health Project

2002: University of Denver School of Law, predatory lending project


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