NIU College of Law Dean Cassandra L. Hill and the Alumni Council celebrated the accomplishments of its graduates who embody what is best about the College of Law during its virtual 2020 Awards Ceremony held on October 14. In addition to honoring its graduates, the College of Law recognized other legal colleagues. The seven award recipients were honored for their career accomplishments, devotion to the public good, continued service to the law school and professional integrity in their work in the public and private sectors.
The 2020 Award Recipients are:
Sonni Choi Williams, Class of 1999
Alumnus of the Year
Sonni Choi Williams is the City Attorney for the City of Lockport, Illinois since being appointed in June of 2017. Prior to her appointment, she worked for the City of Peoria for over 17 years. She has over 20 years of experience in municipal law and litigation of civil state and federal tort and injunction cases including arguing before state and federal appellate courts and the Illinois Supreme Court. Sonni has served on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. Sonni is extremely active in a number Bar Associations in Illinois. She currently serves on the boards of Korean-American Bar Association of Chicago; Asian-American Bar Association Chicago, Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE); Prairie State Legal Services, Northern Illinois University College of Law Board of Visitors, and Lockport Township High School Foundation Board. She was appointed as a chair of the ISBA’s Local Government Law Section Council, as a vice-chair of the ISBA’s Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law, and a member of the ISBA’s Leadership Academy Governing Board.
Mariam Hafezi, Class of 2010
Young Alumna of the Year
Mariam is an experienced trial attorney who spent her initial years litigating complex medical negligence cases on behalf of injured patients. Her practice now runs the scope of personal injury and wrongful death, including auto accidents, premises liability, construction negligence, products liability, and medical negligence. She was made partner in 2018. Mariam has first-chaired numerous jury trials to verdict in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Federal Court in Chicago that demonstrate her commitment to justice for the injured. She and her partner won a record-setting $15.2 million dollar construction negligence jury verdict in Chicago. She has also secured six figure soft tissue verdicts for her clients in DuPage County. Demonstrative of her commitment to justice, Mariam takes cases to the appellate court. She has successfully briefed, argued, and won appeals in First and Second Districts, and has argued before the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield. Mariam has been peer-selected as a SuperLawyers Rising Star every year since 2018, an achievement bestowed on only 5% of attorneys.
Hon. Thaddeus Wilson, Class of 1994
Distinguished Service Award
Judge Thaddeus L. Wilson was appointed to the bench of the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2007 and elected in 2010. He is currently a supervising judge assigned to the Criminal Division where he hears felony cases. Prior to his appointment, Judge Wilson was the managing attorney of the Law Office of Brookins & Wilson. He practiced in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, general civil litigation, civil rights/police misconduct, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and election law. Judge Wilson has served on numerous committees and task forces including the Supreme Court’s Weighted Caseload Task Force, Illinois Judicial College, Illinois Supreme Court e-Business Policy Advisory Board. Judge Wilson presided over the first-ever terrorism case tried in the Circuit Court of Cook County under Illinois’ state terrorism statutes. He also presided over the first complete trial to be recorded and televised live with cameras in a courtroom in Cook County, Illinois. He has lectured at CLE seminars and presented at conferences for a number of bar associations, firms, and other legal organizations. Most recently, Judge Wilson was installed as President of the Illinois Judicial Council.
Hon. Linda Perez, Class of 2000
Public Service Award
Judge Linda Perez is a Circuit Court Judge elected in November 2018. She is currently assigned to the Juvenile Justice Division. Prior to her current assignment, Judge Perez served in Traffic Court from December of 2018 through May of 2019. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Perez served as an Assistant Public Defender from 2002-2018. She began her service to the Public Defender’s Office as an Administrative Assistant, then returned to the office as an attorney, after completing law school. As an Assistant Public Defender, she served in the Juvenile Protection Division, Misdemeanor/Traffic Division, Juvenile Justice Division and the Felony Trial Division. Judge Perez joined the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI) as a law student and went on to serve as a member of their Board of Directors, becoming the organization’s first Community Outreach Chair. She is a member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association (PRBA) and while serving as an attorney, served as a member of the Judicial Evaluation Committee for HLAI and PRBA. Judge Perez also sponsors an annual scholarship award for an undergraduate student selected by the Mexican Patriotic Club of Chicago. Judge Perez has served as a mentor to undergraduate students, law students and lawyers, both individually and through the bar associations.
Daniel Nuñez, Class of 2011
Outstanding Service Award
Daniel Nuñez has been practicing law and litigating since 2011. He started Nuñez Legal Group in 2019, a firm focused on criminal defense where he represents those facing criminal charges, from simple traffic matters up to and including murder. His client base consists predominantly of Spanish speaking immigrants and Daniel has prided himself in providing them quality representation in their own language. Additionally, Daniel has been active with the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, serving on HLAI’s Judicial Evaluations Committee and serving as the Head of the Law School Committee. He is also active in the Puerto Rican Bar Association and he serves on the Board of Directors for Mental Health America of Illinois. He is most proud of his work mentoring future lawyers through various organizations. Daniel is one of the founders and current Vice President of a nonprofit organization, Club San Antonio de Fernandez Unido (CSAFU). CSAFU is an organization that seeks to raise funds annually to fund various infrastructure projects that benefit the community of San Antonio de Fernandez, Jalisco, the community where Daniel’s parents were born. This year’s project will make improvements in the homes of the elderly or disabled by installing safety rails, wheelchair ramps, new electrical, new roofs and other needed repairs. CSAFU will also donate wheelchairs, canes and other needed equipment to members of the community.
Professor Emerita Lorraine Schmall
Honorary Alumna Award
Professor Emerita Lorraine Schmall taught at the NIU College of Law for nearly 25 years before she retired in 2013. She is a passionate attorney and professor that has dedicated her life to her community and to social justice issues. Further, she has an unparalleled dedication to the diversity and advancement of women and minorities in the legal field and labor movement. Professor Schmall continues to remain extremely active post retirement by volunteering at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services; Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago as a lecturer in Chicago public schools in a program bringing the U.S. Constitution to young students; World Chicago volunteer, mentor and host for young women from third-world countries invited by the U.S. State Department to study, work and engage in citizen diplomacy; and Huddle-in-the-Loop political action volunteer focusing on bi-partisan voter education and partisan campaigns for women in politics.
Jennie Amato, Kane County Public Defender’s Office
Mentor of the Year
Jennie Schutter Amato has been an Assistant Public Defender with the Kane County Public Defender’s Office for twenty-three years, spanning her entire legal career. She is currently the Chief of Professional Development for the Kane County Public Defender. Jennie is the founding Director of the Continuing Legal Education Program for the office, securing the Kane County Public Defender’s Office as an accredited CLE provider. She is responsible for teaching or providing instructors for monthly CLE seminars for the attorneys in her office. Jennie is also the Director of the Kane County Public Defender’s Office Internship Program, responsible for interviewing, hiring, and supervising law school interns and externs. She is a frequent guest lecturer on the Criminal Justice System at Lewis University. Jennie has handled numerous criminal felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile cases over the course of her career at the Kane County Public Defender. She prides herself on caring for her clients at all stages of their cases from pre-trial to post-trial. Every client is treated with dignity and respect.