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Press Release

NIU Law Award Honorees
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September 30, 2016

DeKalb, Ill.--The NIU Law Alumni Council celebrated alumni and friends who embody what is best about the College of Law during their annual Awards Reception September 14 at the University Club of Chicago. The eight honorees were recognized for their career accomplishments, devotion to the public good, continued service to the law school and professional integrity in their work in the public and private sectors.

Vincent CorneliusVincent F. Cornelius (’89) was honored as Alumnus of the Year. Vincent is the principal of the Law Offices of Vincent F. Cornelius. Established in 1994 with offices are located in Joliet and Wheaton, Illinois, the law firm is a trial practice, with a focus in civil and criminal litigation. In 2016, Vincent was sworn in as the first African American president of the Illinois State Bar Association. He has also served on a number of boards including President of the Illinois Bar Foundation; Chancellor, ISBA Academy of Illinois Lawyers; ISBA Board of Governors; founding member of the Black Bar Association of Will County; and many more. Vincent received his BBA in Business Administration in 1986 from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, where he was an Academic All-American athlete. He is a recipient of the USF Joann Placher Distinguished Alumni Award, and he has served as Vice-Chairman of the USF Board of Trustees. He is a recipient of the College of Law’s Outstanding Alumni Award, and he serves as a member of its Board of Visitors.

Ashley JenkinsAshley S. Jenkins (’01) was honored as Young Alumna of the Year. Ashley is the Deputy Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President, John J. Cullerton, and the members of the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus. Ashley serves as Parliamentarian and Legal Counsel for the Senate Criminal Law Committee, the Senate Executive Committee, and the Senate Special Committee on Restorative Justice. In 2015, Ashley became the first African-American woman to serve as Parliamentarian for the Senate, ensuring Senate proceedings and votes comply with Senate Rules and the Illinois Constitution. She is also the first African-American woman to serve as Deputy Chief Legal Counsel for the Senate. Ashley is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated and Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, International.

Karoline CarstensKaroline Carstens ('06) was honored as Young Alumna of the Year. Karoline joined Simmons Hanly Conroy in 2006 as an associate and handles a large case load for the asbestos and mesothelioma litigation team. Karoline served as an intern at the McLean County, IL State’s Attorney’s Office and a legal assistant at Robert Half Legal before joining the firm. From 2006 to 2008 she worked in the Class Action Department prosecuting consumer class action, Qui Tam, and pharmaceutical cases. As an associate in the Asbestos Litigation Department, she has assisted in recovering tens of millions of dollars for her clients.  At NIU Law, she was the vice president of the Amnesty International NIU Chapter, a four-year recipient of the Wesleyan Academic Scholarship, a participant in Moot Court, a member of Delta Theta Phi, and a regular on the Dean’s List.

Gabriel RodriguezGabriel M. Rodriguez (’84) was honored with the Distinguished Service Award.  Gabriel is a partner at Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago, IL. He maintains a comprehensive environmental practice assisting manufacturing and energy clients with environmental compliance, enforcement and litigation matters. He also leads the firm’s dynamic and highly regarded Environmental Practice group. He has more than 30 years’ experience representing clients in environmental and natural resources law, with a focus on enforcement, litigation, and administrative proceedings. Gabriel is a member of the firm’s Diversity Committee and chairs its Subcommittee on Race, Ethnicity and National Origin (RENO). He also leads the firm’s pro bono partnership with the National Immigrant Justice Center, representing persons seeking asylum from political, ethnic or gender persecution, as well as immigrant children seeking deferred action status. Gabe started his career as an Illinois Assistant Attorney General in the Environmental Enforcement Division prosecuting cases under CERCLA, RCRA, and the Clean Water Act.

Ed UnderhillEdward J. Underhill (’84) was honored with the Outstanding Service Award. Ed is a senior partner at the Chicago Law Firm of Masuda Funai. He has practiced there for more than twenty-five years, where he specializes in commercial transactions and commercial litigation. Ed has remained a strong and constant supporter of NIU and made many valuable contributions to the College of Law. He is a former member of the College of Law Alumni Council and served as its President from 1986 to 1989. In 1992, when the state government was looking to cut costs at public universities, Ed led the fight to protect the College of Law by creating and leading a “Keep the Doors Open” campaign. In 1993, he received the Young Alumnus of the Year Award. He is the author of many legal articles, including articles published in the Illinois Bar Journal. Ed is also a published playwright and short-story writer. He won the inaugural Chicago Lawyer Fiction Contest in 1986 for his story, “Call the Next Case.”

Bob FiorettiRobert W. Fioretti (’78) was honored with the Public Service Award. Bob is member of Roth Fioretti, LLC, a full-service firm offering legal services in business law, litigation, intellectual property, municipal law and civil rights. Bob is a former Alderman in the Chicago City Council, who represented the 2nd Ward for two terms. He also served as the Cook County Democratic Party 2nd Ward Committeeman. Bob practices in the areas of governmental law, civil rights and complex litigation. He has been involved in over 500 civil rights cases, and his personal trial experiences have led to over 100 state and federal verdicts and appellate court decisions. Bob represented the family of Baby Tamia in the high-profile adoption case that led to changes in Illinois adoption law. Bob is active in several civic and charitable organizations and serves on numerous boards and committees. He has served as President of the Historic Pullman Foundation, the Character and Fitness Committee of the Illinois Supreme Court, and the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the Chicago Bar Association Executive Committee.

Professor Mark CordesProfessor Mark Cordes was honored with the Honorary Alumnus Award. Mark joined the NIU College of Law in 1983, where he has taught courses in Property, Land Use Controls, Constitutional Law, First Amendment and Environmental Law. He earned his J.D. from Willamette University College of Law and a J.S.M degree from Stanford Law School. After law school Mark served as a law clerk to Justice Thomas Tongue of the Oregon Supreme Court. Prior to coming to Northern, Mark was a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School for two years, where he taught Legal Research and Writing to first-year law students. Mark served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at NIU from 1997-1999. More recently, he served as Interim Dean of the College of Law for the 2015-2016 academic year. He received the “Outstanding Professor” Award from the College of Law Alumni Association in 1999 and was voted Professor of the Year by the Class of 2001.

Jill TrittJill M. Tritt was honored as Mentor of the Year. Jill joined Foster, Buick, Conklin & Lundgren, LLC, in September of 2011. Her practice is focused in Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Administration, Business Planning, and Taxation. Jill currently serves as the Chair of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. She is also the Treasurer for the Sycamore History Museum, and has dedicated her time and talents to various local organizations including the Kishwaukee College Foundation and Ladies Night Out. She is a member of the American Bar Association, Illinois Bar Association, and DeKalb and Kane County Bar Associations. In an effort to further assist clients in estate planning, Jill became licensed as a Certified Public Accountant in 2002.

The Award Recipients are pictured with friends and family and holding their award plaques.


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

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