September 17, 2021

Professor Receives Oregon State Bar’s Highest Honor

Aliza Kaplan, Professor of Lawyering and Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, received the Oregon State Bar’s highest honor, the Award of Merit.

The Oregon State Bar (OSB) is bestowing Professor Aliza Kaplan with the organization’s Award of Merit on October 28, 2021.

The award is the bar’s highest honor, and “recognizes an Oregon lawyer who has made outstanding contributions to the bench, the bar and the community at large, and who exhibits the highest standards of professionalism.” The nomination consists of numerous letters of support from the legal community. It describes Kaplan’s contributions, noting “her dedication to developing and supporting new lawyers in Oregon, and her work as a transformative force, an important and tireless leader, for criminal-justice reform in Oregon and the nation.”

The OSB notes that this award does not have to be granted every year. Past recipients read like a who’s who of the Oregon legal world, including Governor Kate Brown ’85.

“The Award of Merit is reserved for lawyers who’ve had an outsized impact on the law, and on those who rely upon a fair, accessible justice system,” noted OSB president David Wade. “Ms. Kaplan has offered hope to vulnerable individuals, while also advancing the law itself in meaningful ways. It is my honor to recognize her with our bar’s highest award.”

The award will be presented at OSB’s Celebrate Oregon Lawyers event on October 28.

Professor Kaplan is the Director of Lewis & Clark’s Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) where students engage in a variety of case work and issues including clemency, parole, access to courts for incarcerated youth, and forensic science in criminal cases. Kaplan also teaches Lawyering, laying the foundation for law students to succeed. Professor Kaplan was the 2015 recipient of the law school’s Leo Levenson Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Leo Levenson received the OSB Award of Merit in 1952.)

Kaplan serves as of counsel to the Forensic Justice Project and helped create the Community Law Division at Metropolitan Public Defender.

Kaplan’s research on the cost of the death penalty and the origins of the nonunanimous jury law in Oregon – with support from the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic students – has propelled elected officials, courts, and community groups to seek out her expertise as they grapple with changes to the law.

Her efforts have resulted in innovative legislation, including Oregon SB819. The bill establishes a procedure for people convicted of and sentenced for felony offenses to petition their sentencing court for reconsideration of their conviction/s or sentence/s if the original sentence no longer advances “the interests of justice.” Her clinic students have been instrumental in researching and drafting numerous petitions for clemency, early release and pardons which have been granted by the governor.

“We are so proud the Bar is recognizing Aliza Kaplan and her many accomplishments,” said Lewis & Clark Law Dean Jennifer Johnson. “She inspires her students daily with her passion for the law and criminal justice reform. Her work  has given many individuals a second chance, and has opened avenues for justice with new laws and legal scholarship that will have a resounding impact for years to come.”

Prior to teaching at Lewis & Clark, Kaplan was an Associate Professor of Legal Skills at Brooklyn Law School. She was also the Deputy Director of the national Innocence Project and co-founded the New England Innocence Project. She was an associate at Testa, Hurwitz and Thibeault in Boston and served as a law clerk to the Honorable Judge Joseph E. Irenas of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Read more about it in the latest Oregon State Bar Bulletin here.

Join us for a celebration of this accomplishment on Oct. 28th here.