Each year, Stanford Law School’s Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law honors two exceptional attorneys who have committed themselves to public service. This year Julie A. Su, BA ’91, California’s Labor Commissioner, received the National Public Service Award, while David Owens, JD/MA ’10, partner at Loevy & Loevy, received the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award.
The National Public Service Award honors attorneys whose commitment to public service has had a national impact, and the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award recognizes an alumnus/a whose outstanding work has advanced justice and social change in the lives of vulnerable populations on a community, national or international level.
“What our honorees show us is that justice is not theoretical,” Diane Chin, Associate Dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law, said in her opening remarks at the award event. “It is made real by being personified, through individual and collective acts of kindness, hope, and courage.”
“These awards and our celebration of Julie Su and David Owens are reminders to our students and all of us about the ways in which the legal system can be used to address inequality and advance social change,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law.
National Public Service Award Recipient: Julie A. Su
Julie A. Su, a nationally recognized expert on workers’ rights and civil rights, has dedicated her career to advancing justice on behalf of poor and disenfranchised communities. While her work is not easy, as she accepted her award, Su discussed the importance of tackling the issues that truly matter, even if they are challenging.
A MacArthur Foundation “Genius,” Su was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the position of California Labor Commissioner in April 2011. Often in her pursuit of justice for workers, Su faced what she calls, the “myth of neutrality.” While some may insist on government neutrality in labor law, to Su, government neutrality and fairness are not the same thing. In discussing her organization, she said, “We are not a neutral organization … We are on the side of the law. Employers who are caught abusing workers will say we are not being fair, that we are not on their side, and we aren’t.”
Before her work as Labor Commissioner, Su was the Litigation Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, the nation’s largest non-profit civil rights organization devoted to issues affecting the Asian American community. As a civil rights attorney, Su brought landmark lawsuits resulting in millions of dollars for low-wage workers and policy changes in California and the United States protecting workers, students, consumers, and immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking.
In 2014, Su launched the “Wage Theft is a Crime” multimedia, multilingual campaign to reach out to low-wage workers and their employers to help them understand their rights and feel safe speaking up about labor law abuses. Describing her work, Su said, “Law is a language, a language of power, and I became a translator for the vulnerable.”
Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award Recipient: David Owens
David Owens, partner at Loevy & Loevy, received the Miles L. Rubin Award for dedicating himself to advocating on behalf of those seeking vindication for the violation of their civil rights, such as in cases involving wrongful convictions, police shootings, false arrests, free speech rights, race discrimination, and other violations of the U.S. Constitution.
Additionally, Owens is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago, where he co-teaches in the school’s pro bono wrongful conviction clinic, The Exoneration Project. He also serves as a member of the Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth in Illinois, representing juveniles who were given life sentences but are now entitled to new sentencing hearings under Miller v. Alabama.
An alumnus of Stanford Law School, Owens was the Senior Articles Editor of the Stanford Law Review, a Member Editor of the Stanford Environmental Law Journal, received the Gerald Gunther Prize for Outstanding Performance in Federal Courts, earned Pro Bono distinction, and served as a fellow in the Levin Center for Public Interest. He was also a member of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, where he represented a number of civil rights groups and an indigent criminal defendant before the United States Supreme Court.
Owens described his school community as being influential in his career. “It feels like I haven’t done anything different than the people who have taught me here at Stanford Law School and than my fellow students at the school. The support I received, and continue to receive, here is incredible and invaluable,” Owens said while accepting his award.
The theme of community continued to shine through as Owens extolled the need to commit to public service despite its challenges: “The fight of others is also your fight. We are all in this together. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and that nothing we can do will matter, but it does matter. When we help one person, we help others.”
About the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law
The mission of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School is – through courses, research, pro bono projects, public lectures, academic conferences, funding programs and career development – to make public service a pervasive part of every law student’s experience and ultimately help shape the values that students take into their careers. It also engages in programming and research that support development of the public interest legal community to increase access to justice.
About Stanford Law School
Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.