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2024 Kutak-Dodds Prizes Awarded to Defenders of Juveniles, Abusive Debt Collection Victims

News | June 10, 2024

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) presented the 2024 Kutak-Dodds prizes at the annual Exemplar Dinner held June 6 in Washington, D.C. Established in 1989, the prizes are jointly sponsored by the Robert J. Kutak Foundation and NLADA in memory of Robert J. Kutak and Kenneth R. Dodds. Both men were partners in the Omaha, Nebraska office of Kutak Rock and advocates of public service, legal education, and high ethical standards.

Ariel Levinson-Waldman is the Founding President and Director-Counsel of Tzedek DC, an independent public interest center at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Drawing from the Jewish teachings of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” or “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” Tzedek DC’s mission is to safeguard the legal rights and financial health of D.C. residents with low incomes dealing with the consequences of abusive debt collection practices and other consumer-related issues. Since opening in 2017, Tzedek DC has provided free legal help to over 3,000 D.C. households, distributed Know Your Rights materials to thousands of community college students, and championed reforms that led to 65,000 people whose driver’s licenses had previously been suspended for unpaid traffic debts regaining the right to drive in the District of Columbia. Mr. Levinson-Waldman was unable to attend, but Stephen B. Jefferson, Sr., community outreach coordinator at Tzedek DC, accepted the award on his behalf. 

Michelle Mason is the chief of the Juvenile Special Defense Unit (JSDU) of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, where she has been an attorney since 1992. JSDU represents children who are direct filed in criminal court in Philadelphia, as well as serious juvenile cases. She supervises JDSU and represents young people in court. Mason was also a primary legal editor of The Pennsylvania Juvenile Defense Notebook and co-authored the chapter on transfer cases.

Kutak Rock Washington, D.C. Office managing partner Debbie Sinclair Ruskin presented the awards, and she was joined by Washington, D.C. Public Finance Department Chair Sisera Daniel. For more information on the Kutak-Dodds prizes, visit NLADA.