Introducing This Year’s Foderaro Post-conviction Litigation Fellows
The fellowship is supported by a generous gift from Denise Foderaro Quattrone, a former Innocence Project board member and a fierce advocate for criminal legal system reform.
Announcement 10.04.23 By Innocence Staff
One was the captain of her university’s Bollywood-fusion dance team. Another is a Los Angeles transplant who is something of a coffee connoisseur in her newfound Brooklyn home. The third has never watched a Harry Potter movie and is an avid fan of film scores — particularly those by the prolific John Williams.
Meet the latest class of the Foderaro Post-conviction Litigation Fellows at the Innocence Project. Christa Alexander, Shabel Castro, and Kaila Johnson all bring brilliant academic credentials and a deep commitment to criminal and racial justice.
The fellowship, which is now in its second cycle, is supported by a generous gift from Denise Foderaro Quattrone, a former Innocence Project board member and a fierce advocate for criminal legal system reform. A founder of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania, Denise is also on the board of the National Registry of Exonerations.
The fellowship program provides a unique and previously non-existent pathway for new attorneys to do post-conviction litigation work at the Innocence Project. It also allows us to expand the number of people we can represent. For the next two years, the fellows will work side-by-side with Innocence Project attorneys on new and existing cases, honing their legal and litigation skills and effectively carrying out the same responsibilities as staff attorneys.
“I am thrilled to support this groundbreaking program,” said Denise. “If we are to truly reform the criminal legal system and ensure a fair and equitable system for all, we have to start in our law schools and with new graduates. Introducing them to the wrongful conviction space and creating a diverse pipeline of smart, informed, experienced attorneys who understand this work first-hand will be game-changing.”
Our new fellows are more than ready for the challenge.
Growing up, Christa Alexander always wanted to pursue a career in law. After witnessing conditions at a jailhouse nursery in New York’s notorious Rikers Island, she was determined to become a public defender. She therefore focused on securing public defense opportunities while studying at St. John’s University School of Law. She is looking forward to all that the fellowship offers and hopes to build on her litigation and advocacy skills in her time with the Innocence Project.
“I was drawn to the Innocence Project because exoneration work highlights all the harmful procedures, practices and facets of the criminal legal system that wrongfully convict and harm clients,” she said. “Whether it’s the several ways an individual can be misidentified or coerced into a false confession, exoneration work puts the faults of the criminal legal system on blast.”
Kaila Johnson, a West Coast native, was acutely aware of the deep disparities between the opportunities and experiences made available to people in her own neighborhood and those afforded to other communities in California. That understanding led her to UCLA School of Law. There, she studied critical race theory that fueled her understanding of the role legal systems have in reinforcing hierarchy and inequality. She took a class on race and wrongful convictions and was hooked.
“Ever since that class, I have been drawn to post-conviction litigation,” said Kaila. “This fellowship is a crucial opportunity for young lawyers like myself to learn from some of the best practitioners in our country, and I am excited to have the chance to learn from attorneys that inspire me. IP is a coveted opportunity in that it allows me to develop my practical lawyering skills while serving a larger public service mission. I feel lucky to be able to begin my legal career at IP! “
Born and raised in the South Bronx, Shabel Castro saw up close just how heavily policed her community was and the challenges many people faced in navigating the country’s education, health and legal systems, to name but a few. She became passionate about challenging the disparities disproportionately faced by communities of color, disenfranchised people, and people on low incomes, which led her to study law.
After completing her studies at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Shabel worked as a staff attorney with the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project at Brooklyn Defender Services, the first and largest public defender program in the country offering universal representation for low-income immigrants detained in ICE custody and facing deportation. It was a sobering experience that furthered her commitment to racial justice and reforming the criminal legal system.
“It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to be surrounded by brilliant and passionate people, who are committed to seeking justice and effectuating change within the criminal justice system,” said Shabel. “I hope this experience will help me become a more creative, skilled, and innovative attorney,”
The fellows were chosen from a highly competitive field of more than one hundred applicants. To learn more about career opportunities at the Innocence Project, visit www.innocenceproject.org/careers
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