Equal Justice Works names Gabo Gutierrez ’21, Alex Matak ’21, and Cesar Ruiz ’21 this year’s fellows of the prestigious public interest fellowship.
In May of 2021, Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, announced its 2021 class of Equal Justice Works Fellows. Each year, Equal Justice Works selects a class of passionate public service leaders who have designed two-year projects, in partnership with legal services organizations, to help build sustainable solutions in the communities where they serve. These projects are funded by the generous support of law firms, corporations, foundations, and individuals. This year, 77 new public interest lawyers were selected from over 466 applications, with three of them being from CUNY Law.
Gabo Gutierrez ’21, Alex Matak ’21, and Cesar Ruiz ’21 are recipients of a 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellowship, one of the most prestigious and competitive post-graduate legal fellowships in the country.
“For more than two decades, Equal Justice Works has awarded Fellowships to launch the careers of outstanding public service leaders,” said Kristen Uhler-McKeown, vice president of fellowships at Equal Justice Works. “We are excited to welcome Alex, Cesar, and Gabo as Equal Justice Works Fellows and want to extend our thanks to CUNY School of Law for cultivating a culture of public service and nurturing their passion for equal justice.”
Gabo Gutierrez ’21
Hosted by: Fair Work Center
Service location: Yakima, Washington
In May 2020, warehouse workers across the Yakima Valley walked off the job demanding stronger protections as COVID-19 raged across their workplaces, leading to the highest rate of infection on the West Coast.
Overwhelmingly Latino and often undocumented, Yakima’s workers are uniquely exposed to issues of wage theft, discrimination, harassment, and dangerous working conditions that the pandemic only exacerbated.
Gabo’s project will combine direct representation, policy advocacy, and outreach to help low-wage immigrant workers in Yakima enforce their rights under state and federal laws. Through his fellowship at Fair Work Center, he will build a sustainable enforcement infrastructure to give Yakima workers the support they need to recover stolen wages, enforce workplace safety protections, and fight discrimination in the workplace. His project is funded by the Ottinger Foundation.
Alex Matak ’21
Hosted by: The National Homelessness Law Center
Service location: Washington, D.C.
Alex will help launch the House Keys Not Sweeps Legal Defense Clinics (LDC) project—a network of pro bono legal clinics designed to curb the criminalization of homelessness by amplifying on-the-ground legal services for unhoused people, while steering aggressive litigation and policy strategies.
More than 3.5 million people in the U.S. go unhoused annually—a rate that has steadily increased over the past several years and will only keep rising, given the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, cities and states across the country are adopting “quality of life” laws—better understood as anti-homeless laws—that criminalize basic survival activities like sleeping, sitting, erecting temporary shelter, asking for money, and even sharing food in public.
These laws trap very poor and unhoused people in cycles of poverty and criminalization that keep them poor and homeless, and that stifles their ability to organize towards solutions that address the root causes of homelessness and poverty. As low-level offenses, folks targeted under these laws are not guaranteed counsel, and legal services organizations remain ill-equipped to deal with the scope and complexity of these issues.
The LDC project reflects a unique collaboration between the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a regional coalition of homelessness organizers and advocates, and the National Homelessness Law Center. It is generously sponsored by Buckley LLP.
Cesar Ruiz ’21
Hosted by: LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Service location: New York and Florida
Cesar is proud to serve his community. Historically, Latinos have been deprived of access to the franchise under policies across the country which suppress and dilute Latino voting power and minimize representation.
In New York and Florida, lack of civic engagement and education and non-participation in the redistricting process results in the underrepresentation of Latinos.
Data shows that Latinos fall below the national average in a wide range of socio-economic indicators. Through this project, hosted by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, he will work to break down barriers to voting and enhance access to key political processes for underrepresented Latino communities in New York and Florida.
Cesar will provide voter and redistricting education and outreach to the most populous Latino districts, oversight and advocacy for compliance with state and federal election laws, and litigating voting and redistricting issues, as needed, in both states. His Equal Justice Works Fellowship is graciously sponsored by the Lavan Harris Family.