Ariel Levinson-Waldman and Michelle Mason Win NLADA 2024 Kutak-Dodds Prizes  

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Release Date: 
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Washington, D.C. (May 7, 2024) - The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) is pleased to announce that Ariel Levinson-Waldman, founding president and director-counsel of Tzedek DC, and Michelle Mason, chief of the Juvenile Special Defense Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, will be honored with the 2024 Kutak-Dodds Prizes.  

" It brings me joy to recognize and celebrate such incredible members of our civil and public defense community with the 2024 Kutak-Dodds Prizes,” said April Frazier Camara, NLADA President & CEO. “Levinson-Waldman and Mason have shown an extraordinary commitment to ensuring fairness and equity in the legal system for those who under-resourced. They inspire us all.” 

The Kutak-Dodds prizes recognize extraordinary contributions to advancing access to justice and racial equity in both civil legal aid and public defense. 

Levinson-Waldman is the Founding President and Director-Counsel of Tzedek DC, an independent public interest center at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Drawing from the Jewish teachings of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” or “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” Tzedek DC’s mission is to safeguard the legal rights and financial health of DC residents with low incomes dealing with the often-devastating consequences of abusive debt collection practices and other consumer related issues.  

Under Levinson-Waldman 's leadership, since its launch in 2017, Tzedek DC has provided free legal help to over 3,000 DC households facing debt collection, consumer, or credit problems, distributed Know Your Rights materials to thousands of community college students, and championed reforms that led to 65,000 people whose drivers licenses had previously been suspended for unpaid traffic debts regaining the right to drive in the District of Columbia. 

“I'm grateful to NLADA, which is such an important source of strength and learning and energy for all of us around the country working to defend the rights of our neighbors who can't afford to pay an attorney when they need one,” said Levinson-Waldman.  “This recognition is a testament to the work and impact of my outstanding teammates at Tzedek DC and our partners in the DC legal services community, and I'm especially honored and humbled to see the list of past winners, including some of my personal heroes like Elaine Jones, Martha Bergmark, and Stephen Bright.  Thank you NLADA.” 

Mason is the Chief of the Juvenile Special Defense Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, where she has been an attorney since 1992. JSDU represents children who are direct filed in criminal court in Philadelphia as well as serious juvenile cases.  She supervises the Unit and represents young people in court. She has presented various trainings regarding the representation of Direct File Juveniles.  She was also a primary legal editor of The Pennsylvania Juvenile Defense Notebook and co-authored the chapter on Transfer cases. 

“I am so honored and humbled to be awarded the Kutak-Dodd prize by the Robert J. Kutak Foundation and the NLADA. Recognition of any kind is meaningful, but to be acknowledged by your peers, and in particular an organization dedicated to the principle of justice for all is mind boggling,” said Mason. “I thank you and will continue to strive to bring our justice system closer to that goal and to live up to this honor every day.” 

Both winners will be honored at the NLADA Exemplar Award Gala on Thursday, June 6, in Washington, D.C., along with the 2024 NLADA Exemplar Award Honoree David Zapolsky, SVP of Global Public Policy and General Counsel at Amazon. 

Since 1989, the Kutak-Dodds Prizes have been awarded to attorneys who have significantly contributed to the human dignity and quality of life of individuals unable to afford legal representation. The prizes are jointly sponsored by The Robert J. Kutak Foundation and NLADA in memory of Robert J. Kutak and Kenneth R. Dodds. 

Each prize carries a cash award of $10,000.  

For more information about the Kutak-Dodds prizes, please contact Rabiah Burks at [email protected]


The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), founded in 1911, is America's oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. NLADA has pioneered access to justice at the national, state, and local levels, playing a leadership role in the creation of public defender systems and other important institutions from The Sentencing Project to the Legal Services Corporation. A leader in the development of national standards for civil legal aid and public defense, NLADA also provides advocacy, training, and technical assistance for equal justice advocates across the country.