Northwestern Pritzker Law Faculty and Former Clinic Fellow to Receive Walter J. Cummings Award

November 04, 2019

Diamond Case Team

Two Northwestern Pritzker School of Law professors and a former fellow with the Bluhm Legal Clinic have been awarded the prestigious Walter J. Cummings Award for pro bono service from the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Juliet S. Sorensen, former Clinic director and clinical professor of law, J. Samuel Tenenbaum, clinical professor of law and director of the Complex Civil Litigation and Investor Protection Center, and Elise Meyer, former Schuette Clinical Fellow in Health and Human Rights, are being recognized for their representation of more than 35 elderly victims of a reverse mortgage scheme on Chicago’s West Side.

The Clinic team took on the case in the spring of 2018, pledging to represent the victims of Mark Diamond, a Chicago man charged with swindling elderly homeowners — mostly African-American women from the North Lawndale neighborhood — and effectively robbing them of a collective $10 million.

Sorensen, Tenenbaum, and Meyer went on to represent the victims in multiple foreclosure and eviction proceedings as well as in appellate court, the bankruptcy proceeding of one of the mortgage lenders, and as victim-witnesses in federal court. They also met extensively with representatives of the Office of the Cook County Assessor, the Cook County Sheriff, and the Illinois Attorney General, and strategized with community organizers to raise awareness in North Lawndale about predatory mortgage fraud.

Sheri Mecklenburg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who nominated the Northwestern Pritzker Law team, complimented their work, calling it “representative of the best tradition of holistic lawyering, recognizing that effective advocacy in complex cases must be multifaceted and take many forms.”

“Financial exploitation of vulnerable victims is unacceptable,” Sorensen said in a January interview with Northwestern University. “It is particularly egregious when the perpetrators target elderly, African-American homeowners in a community that has endured much and suffered much, whose sole asset of significance is the equity in their homes.”

Clinic Director Emeritus and Class of 1967 James B. Haddad Professor of Law Tom Geraghty is the only other Northwestern Pritzker Law faculty member to have received the Cummings award. In 2016, he was recognized for his work on the wrongful conviction case and ultimate exoneration of Jason Strong.

The award to Sorensen, Tenenbaum, and Meyer will be presented at the “Young Lawyers - Meet the Judges Mixer” at the Dirksen United States Courthouse, Thursday, November 14 from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. The public can register for the event here.