Past Winners

Winners of the Francine Diaz Memorial Award 1987-2011




The first recipient was Nancy Taylor ’87. As a student at Boalt, Taylor served as Senior Note and comment Editor of the California Law Review, and actively participated in the Black Law Students Association, the Coalition for a Diversified Faculty, and the campus divestment movement. As part of her Immigration Law Clinic, Taylor worked for the San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Following graduation, she clerked for Judge Warren Ferguson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Taylor is now associate director of business and legal affairs at MCA Records in Los Angeles and also has an active pro bono practice. In addition to serving as counsel to the Christopher Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, Taylor provides pro bono assistance to defendants in death penalty cases, as well as serving as a volunteer for the Big Sister Association

Tania Russell ’88 was the second woman of color to receive the Diaz Award. After graduation, Russell worked as a trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She is currently associate counsel for the Oakland Unified School District. Her responsibilities include representation of plaintiffs and the school district in discrimination suits and personal injury litigation, as well as implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Russell also participates in community work on race and ethnic bias issues, workers’ rights, student anti-violence initiatives, and multicultural education.

Shannon Salinas ’89 received the award for her commitment to children’s issues and immigration law. The University of Arizona graduate was a social worker specializing in child abuse cases before entering law school. At Boalt Hall, Salinas participated in the Refugee and Immigration Law Clinics. After graduation, she worked at a legal services office in Arizona where she specialized in representing undocumented children.

In 1989, the committee also selected Rebecca Hall ’89 for an honorable mention award. Granted a Skadden Fellowship when she graduated from Boalt, Hall worked one year at Public Advocates in San Francisco on the Homebase Project for the homeless and a second year at the Berkeley Community Law Center on the Homelessness Prevention Project, which she initiated. Hall is now in private practice with Jean Hyams ’89. Their firm specializes in tenants’ rights, disability rights, and what Hall terms “feminist tort law.”

In 1990, the Diaz Award was given to Rosemary Torres ’90 for her commitment to serving the health care needs of people of color. While a student, Torres was active in the La Raza Law Students Association, the Boalt Hall Women’s Association, the Boalt Hall Students Association, and the Boalt Hall Admissions Committee. As a registered nurse with many years of experience in grassroots health organizations, Torres hoped to combine her legal and medical skills to influence state and national health care policy. Following graduation, she was a Coro Foundation Fellow.

Sylvia Soler ’91 received the 1991 Diaz Award. Soler graduated from UC Irvine with degrees in social ecology and Spanish literature. She worked at the Berkeley Community Law Center and Migrant Legal Services while at Boalt, and was an active member of the La Raza Students’ Association. After graduation, she remained at UC Berkeley to continue work towards a master’s degree in Latin American studies.

The following year’s recipient, Noelani Loo Jai ’92, is a native of Hawaii and received her undergraduate degree from Pomona College magna cum laude with a double major in government and public policy analysis. At Boalt, she worked with the Berkeley Community Law Center’s AIDS Project, the Bridge to Families Living with HIV volunteer organization, and the Hands On AIDS Ministry. Following graduation in December 1992, Jai received a Berkeley Law Foundation grant to start a free HIV clinic for children in conjunction with Legal Services for Children, Inc. in San Francisco.

Patricia Gordon ’92 also received an honorable mention award from the Committee. In 1978, Gordon co-founded and directed Indian Youth of America, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Native American children. She is currently president of the organization’s board of directors. Following graduation, Gordon became a staff member to the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., where she is working on the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act.

Yvette Verastegui ’93 received the Francine Diaz Memorial Award for her commitment to promote social justice for youth of color. Verastegui received her undergraduate degree in English from UC Irvine in 1990. She was a counselor aide in the Equal Opportunity Program at Golden West College and initiated the Hispanic Educational Advancement Center at Golden West College to specifically target Latino youth. At Boalt, Verastegui was active in organizations promoting social justice for students of color. In her third year, she co-founded the Coalition for Civil Rights at Boalt, an organization devoted to diversifying the faculty, student body, and curriculum. In the summer of 1992, she worked for the National Center for Youth Law. Her future career plans are to work in public interest law on children’s issues.

Lydia Radic-Gntierrez ’93 received the honorable mention award at the 1993 graduation ceremony, after having feared she wouldn’t graduate following the death of her mother and the burning of her home earlier in the academic year. Born in Mexico with cerebral palsy, the self-described “senior, latina and disabled woman” was a welfare mother of five living in the projects before she became a court reporter for Justice Roger Traynor ’27. While attending San Francisco State University, from which she graduated magna cum laude in political science in 1981, she was appointed by Mayor Moscone to serve on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; she was later elected vice president of the PUC. Radic-Gutierrez then entered law school because she felt she could better serve her community with a law degree. At Boalt Hall, she formed the Disabled Students Coalition and served as an associate editor of the International Tax and Business Lawyer. After graduation, she was invited by the Dean of the Tepeyac under UNAM Law School to participate in a congresso in Leon, Mexico on the subject of the North America Free Trade Agreement.

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Biographies of Several Post-’93 Winners:

Pat Sekaguaptewa ’95 created Boalt’s Hopi Appellate Court Project, a clinical program that introduces tribal law to students who work in the Hopi courts. She continues her work in this area as an Echoing Green Fellow.

Desiree Ramirez ’09
The winner of the award must exemplify in her work at Boalt and career plans Francine Diaz’s legacy. At the award ceremony hosted by the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice on April 27, 2009, it became clear how remarkably similar their paths were.

Professor David Oppenheimer described his former student Francine and her spirited pursuit of justice. She was thorough, passionate, and undaunted by obstacles. Her brother David Diaz’s accounts of her emphasized at what an early age her leadership and courage emerged. Professors described many of the same qualities in Desiree. During her three semesters in the Death Penalty Clinic, her colleagues gained a deep respect for Desiree’s natural leadership and initiative and “her infectious enthusiasm for social justice; her tireless work on behalf of her clients; and her constant desire to learn and improve what are already highly competent lawyering skills.”

Desiree arrived at Boalt with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemical engineering from MIT and UCLA, respectively. While there, she founded the MIT Latino Cultural Center. Although she excelled at science and math, she regarded engineering not as a passion but as a means of helping her mother and herself out of poverty. So why did she leave a lucrative career to come to Boalt to study public interest law?

"I was unsure of how to transition from a career in engineering to a career in law, but I knew that I wanted to live my life making a difference in the lives of those who were facing the same issues my family and I faced. Quickly, it became clear that as a public defender I could help the individuals and families dear to my heart."

In her first summer of law school, she became a judicial extern for the Honorable Kim Wardlaw, U.S. court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, developing appeals regarding employment discrimination, social security benefits, and claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. In her 2L summer, she clerked with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and this spring, she is working with the Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of indigent prisoners in Georgia and Alabama. In addition to the Death Penalty Clinic, her student activities have included Street Law, Juvenile Hall Outreach Program, Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, La Raza Law Students Association, La Raza Workers’ Rights Clinic, Coalition for Diversity, and California Law Review. After graduation this May, Desiree will represent clients at The Bronx Defenders.

One anecdote makes clear her deep commitment to her work. After the Henderson Center notified her that she had won the Diaz Award, she thanked them for the honor but said she would be unable to attend. She did not want to compromise her final week of work at the Southern Center for Human Rights by flying out for the ceremony. As it turned out, we persuaded her to take redeye flights to California and back to the South. She missed one day of work to receive her award, but we hope the memories of the many friends and faculty who attended the ceremony to honor her were fair compensation for the lost day.

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Note: These essays on past winners have been contributed by Boalt’s Archivist William Benemann and by the Henderson Center, sponsor of the Francine Diaz Memorial Award. If you can suggest additions, please send them to