Main content

2024 EPIC Awards go to public interest legends

Lisa Ashmore |
2-24 EPIC Inspiration Awards
2024 EPIC Inspiration Award winners and presenters
(L-R) Rhani Choi Lott 10L, Lawrence J. Bracken II, Paul J. Murphy 86L, Elizabeth Markowitz 90L, Ateeyah Hollie, Terrica Redfield Ganzy, Niamh Creedon-Carey 24L, Randee Waldman

This year the Emory Public Interest Committee (EPIC) honored a veteran public defender, a former investigator turned civil rights attorney, and an Am Law 100 firm partner who has logged hundreds of pro bono hours over nearly 40 years in practice.

Lawrence J. Bracken II, Atteyah Hollie, and Liz Markowitz 90L received EPIC Inspiration Awards on Feb. 6, 2024. Emory Law Dean Mary Anne Bobinski called them “the champions of justice, the defenders of the vulnerable, and the architects of a more equitable society.” 

Bracken received the Lifetime Commitment to Public Service Award; Hollie received the Unsung Devotion to Those Most in Need Award; and Markowitz was recognized for Outstanding Leadership in the Public Interest.

Hollie was introduced by colleague Terrica Redfield Ganzy, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), where Hollie is deputy director. Hollie works to end extreme sentencing, denial of the right to counsel for poor Georgians, illegally closed courtrooms, wealth-based detention, and inhumane prison conditions.

“In a world where the scales of justice too often tip against people who are marginalized, it takes extraordinary courage and commitment to stand firm and say, ‘Not on my watch,’” Ganzy said. “Ateeyah musters this courage every single day as she has dedicated her entire career to fighting for the rights of people who are often targeted and oppressed by systems of Injustice that criminalize nearly everything most especially race and poverty.” Hollie’s work on the SCHR’s resentencing project has resulted in the resentencing and release of nearly 100 people across the South since 2015, Ganzy added.

Hollie addressed the students present who aspire to be public interest lawyers.

“No movement is a product of one person's efforts or talents,” she said. “You will need each other and your communities because this work is just as devastating as it is rewarding. It is simply devastating to see the people that you grow to know and love be demonized disregarded and demeaned, and it's devastating to see the law constantly fail the people that we love. If you're anything like me, you will likely question your impact—but never lose sight of the many, many forms that change can take.”

Markowitz is now chief strategy officer for the Fulton County Clerk of Court, but she spent three decades in Atlanta courtrooms as a public defender, while raising three children solo.

“To be honest, being a public defender is hard, and with absolute respect to the other professions that contribute to our society, I'm not sure there really is a harder job,” Markowitz said. “But the real truth is that for me, being a public defender wasn't a job— it was a calling for 32 and a half years. I had the honor of speaking for those most marginalized in our society.” 

She was introduced by Rhani Lott Choi 10L, NITA’s education director, who recalled meeting Markowitz at an on-campus brown bag lunch during Choi’s 1L year.

“She was so kind, so smart, so passionate about what she did. She told us about her cases, and she talked about her clients not as if they were folks she was helping, but that they were folks who were part of her life, that these were people who she cared about,” Choi said. “And it changed everything for me.”

Since retiring as a PD last year, Markowitz visited Africa to work with NITA, Lawyers without Borders, and Justice Defenders to teach in-custody defendants how to try their own cases in a system that has no public defenders (and where 95% of defendants represent themselves). For seven years, she’s coached the Emory Mock Trial Society and three of her teams won the national competition. 

Retired King & Spalding Partner Paul B. Murphy 86L introduced his good friend Bracken.

“Larry loves being a lawyer and all its trappings and responsibilities—after practicing law for almost 40 years and putting in punishing hours, I think Larry still wakes up every morning and announces to himself ‘I get to be a lawyer today,’” Murphy said.

Bracken has litigated insurance coverage, class actions, and commercial cases in federal and state courts for decades, but he has also zealously defended the rights of those who cannot afford representation for just as long.

“In 1986 I joined my law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth, and I immediately knew that I was at a place where public interest work and pro bono work was not merely encouraged but that it was part of the DNA of the law firm.” Bracken’s public interest work ranged from family law and housing issues to death penalty and habeas corpus cases in federal court.

“In 2001 my team and I were appointed to our first prisoners’ rights cases by Judge Hull [Frank M. Hull 73L] on the 11th circuit, and from there we took on an increased caseload of prisoner rights cases—habeas corpus, wrongful convictions, three-strikes cases, parole board petitions, and especially Eighth Amendment prison condition cases. I also had the privilege of working with Ateeyah Hollie and with the amazing lawyers of the Southern Center for Human Rights.”

Bracken is president of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation’s Executive Committee and in 2015 he received SCHR’s Justice Ally of the Year Award.

“Receiving this award from the Emory Public Interest Committee is both humbling and motivating,” Bracken said. “It has been a profound privilege to serve the community with my colleagues and our friends at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and Southern Center for Human Rights. I am deeply honored and will continue to offer my support to aspiring public interest lawyers and students along the way.”

Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic Director Randee Waldman announced that Niamh Creedon-Carey 24L received this year’s Mark and Rebekah Wasserman Public Service Award. Last summer, she worked at SCHR through an EPIC summer grant.

The Inspiration Awards are the primary fundraiser for summer grants, which allow Emory Law students to accept otherwise unpaid summer public interest jobs. In 2023, 49 students earned grants to work in organizations including the Justice Department’s Disability Rights Section, the Georgia Innocence Project, and nonprofits around the country who benefit from free legal assistance, e.g., Washington, DC’s Bread for the City and Catholic Charities Atlanta. Fundraising for this year continues, and EPIC expects to again award grants to dozens of rising 2L and 3L students doing unpaid public interest work, said Assistant Director for the Center for Public Service Corey Fleming Hirokawa 00L.