Immigration Clinic Student Wins Markus Award

The award was established for the late Stuart Markus, J.D. '58, "the last small-town lawyer in this big town."
Immigration Clinic Student Wins Markus Award
Markus award winner, Kelsey McGonigle during virtual court

The directors of the University of Miami School of Law clinics have conferred the 2023 Markus Award on Kelsey McGonigle, a rising third-year student, for her exemplary work in the Immigration Clinic.

"Kelsey is a clinic super star. With characteristic brilliance, empathy, and patience, she litigated two complex deportation cases, together with other students," said Rebecca Sharpless, director of the immigration clinic and associate dean for experiential learning. "We are grateful to the Markus family for the opportunity to honor Stuart Markus and for their support of our clinical program."

Award named for empathetic alumnus

Miami Law alumnus Stuart Markus began practicing law in Miami in 1958 and worked as a trial attorney for 55 years. He was well-known for representing the "little guy," often without accepting a fee.

He was "the last small-town lawyer in this big town," said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, a longtime friend.

After he died in late 2013 at age 81, his family established the Markus Award at Miami Law, which recognizes a student each year for outstanding work in one of the law school's in-house clinics.

"My dad practiced law in Miami for over 50 years," said son David Markus, a well-known South Florida defense attorney. "Throughout his career, he fought hard for his clients in every area of the law. He never turned away from a person in need and helped countless people with practical, hands-on advice and representation that went far above and beyond the norm.

"My wife, Mona, and I established the Markus Award to honor a student who shares that caring spirit, and who has made a meaningful difference in someone's life—which is something my dad did every day," said David Markus. "Kelsey embodies the mission of the award."

McGonigle excelled in the clinic, combining a sharp legal mind and strong writing skills with excellent "soft" skills, like being a team player and strong communicator. She brought calm, mature, and thoughtful energy to her work and clinic class, particularly during case strategy sessions. 

"I am also profoundly grateful to our clients for trusting us with their cases and their stories. They made it easy to stay motivated and remember why we were working so hard. It was humbling to realize how much our work could influence not just the case, but consequently the whole course of our clients' lives. We can't wait to watch their kids grow up to become lawyers—a hope they shared with us along the way. I am extremely honored to be receiving the Stuart Markus award,'" said McGonigle. 

McGonigle worked tirelessly on some of the most challenging cases in the Immigration Clinic.

Last semester, she worked on an immigration court case that went to a final hearing on two distinct defenses to deportation. She and her partner prepped their client and multiple witnesses, including experts, investigated the facts and obtained evidence supporting the case, wrote an excellent pre-trial memorandum on both forms of relief, and presented the case in court over two days.

After the client became a victim of a violent crime, she and her partner secured the criminal prosecutor's cooperation to sign paperwork for a U-visa (victim visa). They negotiated a settlement of the civil deportation case.

In the spring, McGonigle’s focus was a Convention Against Torture court case for someone detained at Baker County Jail. She spent hours interviewing her client, even traveling to Baker Jail near Jacksonville to interview him in person multiple times. The case went to a final merits hearing before an Orlando immigration judge. McGonigle will be returning to the Immigration Clinic during her third year as a student fellow.

In addition to working with the clinic, McGonigle is volunteering with the American Civil Liberties Union on their Baker Jail project, focusing on improving detention conditions. She is also a member of the University of Miami Law Review

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