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December 12, 2006

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or
Event Contact: Eden Harrington, Director, William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at UT Law, 512-232-7068 or

Access to Justice Scholarship Awarded to Laura Peña, '08

Photo of Laura Peña
Laura Peña

AUSTIN, Texas—Laura Peña, a second year student at The University of Texas School of Law, is the fall 2006 recipient of the Access to Justice Scholarship. This $1,000 scholarship is presented to a female student at the Law School who has demonstrated a sustained and passionate commitment to promote access in the justice system, and who has overcome significant obstacles.

The scholarship was given by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) on Nov. 13 in the Law School's Eidman Courtroom in front of an audience of high school students during the "Color of Justice" program, the goal of which is to encourage minority high school students from the Austin area to consider law and the judiciary as career aspirations. The program is jointly sponsored by NAWJ, the Travis County Women Lawyers' Association (TCWLA) and the Women's Law Caucus at UT Law.

The scholarship was presented by Judge Elisabeth Earle, regional director of NAWJ, and Justice Bea Ann Smith, '75, of the Third Court of Appeals of Texas, who is also the international director and past president of NAWJ. The program included panels on pursuing careers on the bench and in the law. Participants included Judges Brenda Kennedy, Lora Livingston, and Orlinda Naranjo, Judge-Elect Eric Shepperd, Portia Bosse (TCWLA former President), Steve Foster (Cantey Hanger), Tracy McCormack (Director of Trial Advocacy Program, UT Law), Jana Ortega (sole practitioner), Velva Price (TCWLA board member), Ciara Williams (UT Law '07), and Gavin Villareal (Baker Botts).

Following the program, the panelists joined the high school students for lunch and career discussions. This is the third "Color of Justice" program presented in Austin.

Scholarship recipient Laura Peña, '08, earned her B.A. in religious studies from Wellesley College. She is the founder and executive director of the Rio Grande Legal Network, an organization that has raised over $1,000 dollars for scholarships to defray the cost of applying to UT Law for students at UT Brownsville and UT Pan-Am. She is also a member of the Texas International Law Journal, and involved with the Chicano/Hispanic Law Students Association. Last summer Peña interned with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) in San Antonio working on a case involving the constitutional rights of immigrants to be free from fourth amendment violations. Upon graduation she hopes to return to the Texas Rio Grande Valley to work to improve access to justice for the underserved.

Related Link:

National Association of Women Judges:

Travis County Women Lawyers' Association: