Indiana's chief justice receives award for diversity efforts

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The National Black Law Students Association has honored Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard for his trailblazing work in diversifying the legal community, largely with the creation of the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity.

Chief Justice Shepard received the annual award known as the A. Leon Higginbotham Award, named after a federal appellate judge and civil rights activist who died in 1998. Chief Justice Shepard was given the honor during the association’s 42nd annual conference in March.

The Indiana Supreme Court announced the honor this week, just after three of the state’s CLEO fellows from 2007 finished their terms May 1 as members of the national NBLSA board.

Taking a modest tone about the award named after a man he knew and admired, Chief Justice Shepard described the late Judge Higginbotham as the true trailblazer deserving recognition while also commending those who’ve gone through the state’s CLEO program.

Formed by the General Assembly in 1997 at the chief justice’s urging, ICLEO is designed to assist minority, low income, or educationally disadvantaged college graduates in pursuing a law degree. Each year, 30 college graduates get into the program. Students who successfully graduate may be eligible for an annual stipend, which can be awarded for up to three successive academic years if the student remains eligible. The annual stipend is currently $6,500 for public law schools and $9,000 for any private law school in Indiana.

Chief Justice Shepard points to the leadership of the three ICLEO fellows on the national NBLSA governing board as evidence of the program’s success: Tiffany Munsell, a 3L at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, served as national chair and she plans to take the bar exam in July; Leah Dupree, a 3L at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, served as national chief of staff and she plans to take the bar exam in February 2011; Melvin Felton II, a 3L from Gary studying at Columbia Law School, served as national director of communications and he also plans to take the bar exam this July.

“It was heartwarming to see the NBLSA leadership in the hands of former CLEO students,” the chief justice said. “Indiana decided these young adults had great gifts to offer our state if given the opportunity. They have gone a step further by making a contribution to a great national organization.”


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