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Press Release

NIU Law Award Honorees Embody the Spirit of Service

September 19, 2014

DeKalb, Ill.--NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea and the NIU Law Alumni Council honored alumni and friends who embody the spirit of public service - at their annual Awards Reception September 17 at the University Club of Chicago. The nine honorees work in the private and public sectors, and share a dedication to the communities they serve.

"These honorees are the best at affecting change in their communities and beyond," said NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea. “We continue to expand our Huskie footprint as our award recipients touch the lives of not only those in Illinois, but across the nation,” she added.

2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, a member of the NIU Law Class of 1978, made a special presentation during the ceremony. “This law school has always been committed to public service. It believes in public service and in helping others,” he said. Fioretti then presented a resolution adopted by the City Council of Chicago honoring the event and awards recipients. Following his remarks, Alumni Council President Kenya Jenkins-Wright (’03) and Alumni Council Committee Chair Stacey Mandell (’96) presented the award recipients with plaques, recognizing the honorees for their career accomplishments, devotion to the public good, and continued service to the law school.

Rick D. Felice with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.Richard D. Felice ('79) was honored as Alumnus of the Year.  Rick is a lawyer in private practice in Wheaton,IL and was recently installed as the 138th president of the Illinois State Bar Association on June 20, 2014.  Rick is an officer of the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company, and serves on the board of the Illinois Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the ISBA. In 2004, he received the Ralph A. Gabric Award for Professional Excellence.  Rick served, by appointment of the Illinois Supreme Court, on the Supreme Court Rules Committee. A long-time member of the DuPage County Bar Association, he was its president, a director and chair of its Judiciary Committee. He is also a past president of the DuPage County Bar Foundation and the DuPage County Chapter of The Justinian Society.

Lesley Irizarry-Hougan with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.Lesley Irizarry-Hougan ('04) was honored as Young Alumna of the Year.  Since graduating from NIU Law, Lesley has devoted herself to practicing exclusively on immigration law.  In 2009, Lesley opened her own law firm L.I.H. Law, PS in Seattle, Washington. Lesley has gained the reputation for having one of the top immigration firms in the greater Seattle area.  Licensed to practice law in Washington State and Illinois, her community work includes taking pro-bono cases through her local public interest immigration firm, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP); giving free immigration workshops; volunteering during Naturalization Day by helping people to apply for U.S. citizenship; and traveling throughout Washington State to participate in free immigration legal clinics.

Abel L. Smith III with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.Abel L. Smith III ('89) was honored with the Distinguished Service Award.  Abel is the Assistant Chief Counsel for General Law in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency with the U.S. Department of Transportation that has the mission of reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.  Prior to joining FMCSA, Abel was a senior attorney for the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). During his eight years with OCR, Abel worked as an attorney in its Chicago and D.C. Regional Offices, where he investigated civil rights cases involving educational institutions in Midwestern and Southeastern states.  Before working at OCR, Abel worked for seven years as an Employee Relations Supervisor for the City of Chicago, where he worked in its Department of Personnel and its Office of Emergency Communications, handling collective bargaining and labor relations matters.

Blake and Nina Cosentino with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.Christian ('00) (not pictured), Nina ('02) and Blake Cosentino ('03) were honored with the Outstanding Service Award.  Chris, Nina and Blake practice together in the family-owned Cosentino Law Firm, where their expertise runs the gamut of legal areas including civil litigation, family law, business and probate law and criminal law.  The Cosentinos are not only successful attorneys but also great advocates for NIU Law, volunteering their time as mentors for both law students and recently graduated new attorneys as well as hiring numerous outstanding NIU Law alumni to work with their firm.  They are extremely active in alumni events and as donors to the Law School as well, with their firm serving as a frequent sponsor of events such as the annual Public Interest Law Society Auction and the NIU Law Golf Outing, which raise money for scholarships and other opportunities for NIU Law students. 

Judge James Holderman with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.The Honorable James Holderman was honored with the Public Service Award.  Judge Holderman has been a United States District Judge of the Northern District of Illinois since 1985, and was the chief judge of that court from July 1, 2006 to July 1, 2013. During his more than twenty-five years on the bench, Judge Holderman has presided over numerous cases in all areas of federal jurisdiction, and has also served by designation on judicial panels of the United States Courts of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the Federal Circuit.  Judge Holderman has been a speaker at numerous judicial and bar association seminars, both nationally and internationally.  In 2012, Judge Holderman was named the 2012 Distinguished Intellectual Property Professional of the Year by the Intellectual Property Owner’s Association. He was also awarded the Justice John Paul Stevens Award by the Chicago Bar Association, as well as the Mark T. Banner Award by the ABA Section on Intellectual Property Law.

Norden S. Gilbert with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.Norden S. Gilbert received the Honorary Alumnus Award.  Norden retired from NIU in 2012 after 35 years of service. In his most recent position as University Counsel in the Office of General Counsel, Norden dealt with contract administration, intellectual property and technology commercialization, and real property.  He also employed numerous NIU Law students and alumni during his time in the Office.  Norden has served on the University Council, the Supportive Professional Staff Council, the Judicial Advisory Board and the Northern Star Publication Board. Recognized as a campus leader on LGBT issues, he served as chair of the university’s Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity from its inception in 1994 until his retirement. The university recognized Norden’s service with the Presidential Award for Excellence and the Eychaner Award for service of the LGBT community.  An active member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys since 1977, he has served on the Committee on Strategic Planning, the Subcommittee on Diversity and Exclusivity, and the Editorial Board of the Journal of College and University Law.

Romas Mockaitis with members of the Alumni Council and Dean Rosato Perea.Romas Mockaitis (’05) was honored with the Mentor of the Year Award, as nominated by his mentee, second-year NIU Law student Todd McPencow.  Romas opened his own firm in February 2014 focusing on criminal defense and various civil matters with an office based in Aurora, IL and serving the majority of the northern Illinois area.  He was previously employed with the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office from 2005 to February 2014. He was assigned to the misdemeanor trial division, felony trial division, Sex Crimes and Child Protection unit, financial crimes and public integrity unit, and felony review unit. He also served as a member of the DuPage County Crash and Accident Reconstruction Team to assist investigation of fatal car accidents.  Romas received the AGACL award for Trial Advocacy for the trial of Illinois v. Brian Dugan.

The Award Recipients are pictured with (left) Kenya Jenkins-Wright ('03), President of the NIU Law Alumni Council; Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea; and Stacey Mandell ('96), NIU Law Alumni Council member and Chair of the Awards Committee.


For more information, contact:
Melody Mitchell
Alumni Events & Public Relations
(815) 753-9655 or

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