Honoring Judge Richard D. Cudahy's legacy


Judge Richard D. Cudahy (center) with the first class of Cudahy Fellows. From left, Kate Diggins, Mike Gentithes, Susan DeCostanza and Jennifer Cassell.
When it comes to the legacy of the late Judge Richard D. Cudahy (LLD ’95), according to colleague and friend, DePaul Dean and Professor Emeritus John Roberts, “Was, is: It’s all the same. He’s one of those few people you meet over your lifetime whom I don’t think anyone ever said a bad word about. Everybody liked him and respected him. He was really an amazing person.”

Judge Cudahy left an indelible imprint on the legal community in Chicago and beyond. He served the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for 15 years. At DePaul, he served as chairman of the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) advisory board (1990-1995) and was a long-time supporter of public interest programs at the College of Law.

In addition to his impactful tenure at IHRLI, he lent his intellectual and monetary support, through the Patrick and Anna Cudahy Fund, to the Chiapas Human Rights Practicum and then the Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL). Cudahy’s foundation annually transfers between $25,000 and $35,000 to fund summer public interest scholarships through CPIL’s Cudahy Fellowship. To date, the foundation has supported more than 130 fellowships.

Recently, four members from the first class of Cudahy Fellows in 2006 shared their thoughts on the fellowship.

Jennifer Cassell (JD ’08), general counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is thankful for the support that led to her fellowship with the Chicago Legal Clinic.

“Had I not received the money that Judge Cudahy so graciously provided, I don’t think I would have been in a position to work in the public interest sector that summer after first year,” she said. “I knew I had a passion for public interest work and I was involved with the Center for Public Interest Law, but it’s challenging when you’re a law student facing massive amounts of student loan debt to be able to work in that field. It’s just so critical for those underserved populations to have people coming out of law school who have a passion for doing that work and helping others, and I think that’s Cudahy’s legacy.”

Katie Diggins (JD ’08) also worked at the Chicago Legal Clinic as one of the first Cudahy Fellows. “I currently work on education policy for a national non-profit that pursues the end of educational inequality,” said Diggins, project director for policy and government affairs at The New Teacher Project. “After six years in private practice, I wanted to return to full-time work in public service. Now, I work on systemic changes that will support greater educational opportunities for all students, including low-income and minority students.

“My time as a Cudahy Fellow and volunteer law clerk helped me to realize the way I would prefer to work on social justice issues is through more systemic and proactive societal change. I am grateful for that time as a fellow and for that experience to help me find the best way that I personally can contribute to social justice.”

In addition to Diggins, Susan DeCostanza (JD ’08), staff attorney at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, is enjoying a career in public interest following her Cudahy Fellowship at the Council on American–Islamic Relations. “I work with children and adults with disabilities and guardianship cases. Half of my job is protecting the rights of adults with disabilities and helping the court make sure that it isn’t calling someone unfit to make decisions for themselves unless that’s absolutely the case. And then, even if someone does need to make decisions for another adult in some other shape or form, I’m helping ensure that their opinion is heard and respected in the legal context.”

“In the summer of 2006, I was an extern in the chambers of Mark Filip (then a district court judge), and I was also interested in doing work with the Chicago Coalition for the homeless,” remembers Michael Gentithes (JD ’08, LLM ’11), assistant appellate defender at the Office of the State Appellate Defender, and the fourth member of Cudahy’s first class of fellows. “But basically to make that summer feasible—to make it economically possible—I needed to have some income coming in, and that’s where the Cudahy Fellowship helped out. I don’t think I would have been able to do both of those things without a little bit of support financially.”

Cudahy’s fellowship continues to energize fellows pursuing careers in public interest.

Santiago Del Real (JD ’16) worked at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (LAF Chicago) and the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project as part of his Cudahy Fellowship. “As the son of Mexican immigrants and as a person born with physical disabilities, I know the challenges faced by these communities. I entered law school because I am committed to becoming a public interest lawyer, and the fellowship placed me in a unique position to assist underrepresented communities in the summers of 2014 and 2015.

“These past years working with farmworkers have only strengthened my resolve to serve others. Thousands of low-wage and immigrant farmworkers are recruited to work in Illinois are often exposed to dangerous working conditions, substandard housing, and are defenseless against wage theft and other employment issues. I was allowed to develop lawyering skills and provide life-changing advocacy for many workers.”

“This fellowship really helps a lot of students who want to do public interest work over the summer,” said third-year student Madeleine Wineland, a Cudahy Fellow who also worked at LAF. “I definitely think I found my niche in the public interest community through my work at LAF. It solidified my dedication to public interest.”​