February 26, 2009

Lawyer who helps Iraqi refugees to present lecture

by Pete Rosenbery

Lawyer who helps Iraqi refugees to present lecture

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- An attorney whose pro bono work includes helping Iraqi refugees will present a lecture next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Christopher Nugent, whose efforts -- along with those of other attorneys – to save the lives of Iraqis was chronicled last year in the American Bar Association Journal, will present the 2009 SIU School of Law Hiram H. Lesar Lecture at 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 4, in the law school auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Nugent is senior counsel with the Community Services Team of Holland & Knight, LLP in Washington, D.C. According to lecture organizers, Nugent is responsible for “cutting-edge immigration-related pro bono projects and undertaking complex domestic and international casework involving immigration and public policy.”

The July 2008 ABA article states that Nugent “organizes Holland & Knight’s pro bono work for refugees all over the globe,” and that in 2007, Nugent spent 3,000 hours assisting Iraqi refugees.

Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the lecture. Nugent will be free to speak with the media at 4:30 p.m., prior to the lecture. To make arrangements for interviews or for more information on the lecture, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communications and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

Dean Peter C. Alexander said he is pleased Nugent is coming to SIUC speak. The attorneys involved are using the power of international law and other relevant laws to help Iraqis relocate to safe countries with legal representation. Many of the Iraqis face danger in their own country for assisting American military forces.

“It’s a very current issue and one that people in Southern Illinois will find to be interesting and relevant as we talk about the war on terror, the Iraq War, and the other international conflicts that are ongoing,” he said.

The Hiram H. Lesar Lecture Series, established in 1992, honors the founding dean of the SIU law school. Alexander spoke with Lesar’s widow, Barbara Lesar, about bringing Nugent to campus.

“She has been following this issue and Mr. Nugent for quite some time,” he said. “She was very excited to hear that I was interested in inviting him to be this year’s Lesar lecturer.”

Nugent will discuss his involvement and efforts in assisting Iraqis, and what he and the other attorneys involved accomplished, Alexander said. The lectures provide lessons not offered in the classroom.

“It will be a great lesson for our students about the obligation of a lawyer to serve the public good and to engage in pro bono activities as your job and schedule permit,” he said. “The community needs to know we have members of the legal profession who are devoting their extra time helping the people who help us in the Iraq War. That is an important reminder for all of us.”

Nugent has more than two decades experience in immigration law and policy. Among his numerous awards is The Legal Aid Society’s Pro Bono Award in 2008. He earned his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College and his law degree from City University of New York School of Law.

Cindy Galway Buys, an associate professor with the SIU School of Law, said the law school is very excited to have Nugent present the Lesar Lecture. She teaches courses that include international law, constitutional law, and immigration law.

Since January 2005, Buys and law school students have participated in the Immigration Detention Project at the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin. The project provides legal information to immigration detainees at the center, conducts intake interviews, and tries to match detainees up with pro bono attorneys if they need legal assistance.

Nugent has “dedicated his professional career to helping some of the most deserving persons in the world obtain refuge in the United States,” she said. “In addition to his recent work with Iraqi refugees, Mr. Nugent has worked extensively with unaccompanied children from other countries who end up in the United States as a result of being victims of trafficking or who are fleeing persecution or torture by their home governments or groups those governments are unable or unwilling to control, such as paramilitary squads or gangs.”

Buys also credits Nugent’s firm, Holland & Knight, for its support of Nugent’s work.

“Holland & Knight’s commitment to support pro bono legal work by its attorneys should be an inspiration and a reminder to our law students and to the larger legal community about the vast need for such services and the obligation of the profession to provide pro bono services to those who cannot afford attorneys,” she said.

This is the 17th Lesar Distinguished Lecture dating back to 1993. Recent lecturers include Eleanor Holmes Norton, congresswoman for the District of Columbia; Hans Blix, chairman of the International Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction; U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit Judge Priscilla R. Owen; attorney Roger Cossack, who discussed the media's role in high-profile legal cases; and Cheryl Brown Henderson and John A. Stokes, two key figures in the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that ended segregation in the nation's public schools.

“These are people who are involved in current national and international affairs who can bring to Carbondale a sense of what his happening in the greater world,” Alexander said. “These are important topics, important people, and very timely programs.”