2009 Recipients

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Where presented : 
Exemplar Award Dinner
Recipient(s) name: 
Julie Levin, Central Office of Legal Aid of Western Missouri, and Danalynn Recer, Harris County, Texas
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

As a legal aid champion for 32 years, Julie E. Levin has provided solace to clients, transformed public housing in Kansas City and imparted knowledge and leadership toward improving public housing programs across the nation. Levin, who has served as managing attorney of the Central Office of Legal Aid of Western Missouri in Kansas City since 1982, first became interested in public service while in college through volunteer work and became more focused on her field in law school, when she made poverty law her primary subject area. Upon her graduation from the University of Kansas Law School, she joined Legal Aid of Western Missouri, first as a staff attorney with its South Office in Joplin, Missouri from 1977-1979, followed by service as an attorney with the Housing Litigation Unit from 1979-1982, before moving into her current position. 

In her work, she has enjoyed major accomplishments in the area of low-income housing in Kansas City, including in Tinsley v. Kemp, which resulted in the Housing Authority of Kansas City being placed in receivership and thousands of housing units revitalized, resulting in lower vacancy and crime rates in the public housing communities. In Tinsley, she became only the second attorney to successfully force a Housing Authority into receivership, setting a standard for advocates nationwide and creating a model of success. Levin’s strategy has been successfully replicated in Washington, DC; Chester, PA; Chicago, IL and several other cities. She has also litigated numerous other housing cases, including nine other class actions, to improve housing conditions and the quality of life for low-income people living in public, private and subsidized housing in Kansas City. 

Levin has also been active in employment law, including arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Wimberly v. Labor and Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri, involving unemployment benefits for mothers who take maternity leave but are terminated before returning to work. While the case received an unfavorable verdict, she was still able to get the Missouri legislature to change the law to correct the issue.

Danalynn Recer has spent 18 years improving the standard of care in capital cases. Most remarkably, she has spent the last seven years bringing her vision, courage, innovation and determination to defending clients in Harris County, Texas, which as a single county accounts for more executions than any individual state except for Texas, through the Gulf Region Advocacy Center (GRACE), where she serves as director and founded as the first office in Texas devoted to capital trial work. Her work in Texas has brought dismissals or plea agreements for seven capital clients, while as retained counsel for the government of Mexico, she has served as counsel for 74 capital pre-trial cases in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma during the last six years and has prevented 73 of them from going to trial with the death penalty. 

Recer first became interested in death penalty work as a graduate student in the African-American Studies Department at the University of Texas, where she was conducting research into lynching and the death penalty in the state. Initially, she became involved in the work through the Texas Resource Center (TRC), which was seeking information on the history of racial violence in the state. Enthralled by the work of Texas death penalty attorneys such as Joe Margulies and George Kendall, she decided to fight capital punishment instead of study its historical roots. She joined TRC as a volunteer in 1991, stayed as a mitigation investigator while in law school and became a law fellow when she graduated. Because of her own personal life experience, which resembled that of many clients, she became an expert in working with clients who for a variety of reasons were resistant to help. When TRC was de-funded in 1995, she moved to New Orleans where she continued her capital trial work at the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center (LCAC). AT LCAC, she secured life-saving pleas or reductions in charges for 13 capital clients and helped win life sentences or better in 10 trials. In 2002 she returned to Texas to represent, free of charge, Calvin Burdine in a retrial for a death penalty conviction handed down in 1984. 

Recer received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1993 and received her masters and bachelors degrees from the University of Texas and is currently a doctoral candidate there.