Retired federal judge David Herndon '77 to deliver law school commencement keynote on May 10

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Retired federal judge David Herndon '77 to deliver law school commencement keynote on May 10

May 06, 2019, Pete Rosenbery

Judge David HerndonCARBONDALE, Ill. – Recently retired U.S. District Court Judge David R. Herndon, a 1977 SIU School of Law alumnus, will deliver the keynote address during commencement ceremonies on May 10.

The commencement ceremony for 76 graduates is at 3 p.m. in Shryock Auditorium. Chancellor John M. Dunn will confer degrees at the ceremony led by Cindy Buys, School of Law interim dean.

Billie SaundersThe class of 2019 selected Billie Saunders, a graduating law student from Mattoon, to be the class speaker. Before law school, Saunders was a legal assistant at the Tapella and Eberspacher Law Firm in Charleston. She will return there as an practitioner.

A non-traditional student and mother of two, Saunders earned an American Bar Association Diversity Clerkship, during which she worked for James L. Gale, a senior business court judge in Greensboro, North Carolina and a Women’s Bar Foundation Scholarship. While at SIU, Saunders was involved in several student organizations and spearheaded multiple community fundraisers. She also worked in law school’s Domestic Violence Clinic and Veteran’s Legal Assistance Program.

Saunders earned her undergraduate degree in liberal studies with a focus on psychology from Bowling Green State University.

First law school commencement ceremonies held in 1976

The ceremony marks the 43rd anniversary of the law school’s first graduating class of 1976 and the 44th overall. Edward Dawson, an assistant professor and the faculty adviser for the Southern Illinois University Law Journal, was selected by the graduating class as this year’s “Outstanding Faculty Member” and will speak. He joined the law school in 2014, and he teaches constitutional law, criminal procedure, civil rights, legislation and administrative process, and federal courts.

Herndon to deliver keynote address

Herndon served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Illinois from 1998 until his retirement in January, after 20 years on the federal bench. During his tenure, he served as chief judge from 2007 to 2014. He also served on the U.S. Committee for Judicial Security from 2011 through 2018, including three years as chairman. Prior to his nomination by President Bill Clinton and subsequent confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Herndon was an associate judge in Illinois’ Third Judicial Circuit from 1991 to 1998. He also worked for 14 years as a trial attorney specializing in plaintiff’s personal injury cases.

Herndon is a 2017 inductee in The Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He was selected as “Judge of the Decade for 2019” and “Top Judge of the Year for 2018” by the International Association of Top Professionals. These recognitions are for Herndon’s “outstanding leadership and commitment to the legal profession.”

The Beatty Jurist-in-Residence, an endowed program that honors the late William L. Beatty, a federal judge and Herndon’s mentor, is an award that Herndon granted to the law school.

Pro Bono Award recipient will also be recognized

Jake YatesJake Yates, a graduating student from Bonne Terre, Missouri, will be honored for working the most pro bono hours. Yates reported more than 680 hours for his work with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid in Carbondale.

Ceremony will also recognize Venezuelan human rights lawyer

Geraldine Chacón, a 25-year-old human rights attorney from Caracas, Venezuela, will be recognized with the law school’s Rule of Law citation. The citation is a formal recognition by the law school faculty of the important tradition of the legal profession that “requires lawyers to stand firm in support of liberty and justice in the face of oppression and, by their words and actions, to honor and support the Rule of Law, even at great personal risk.”

A commencement hood and scroll will be placed on an empty chair to symbolize lawyers who are suffering for their actions as legal advocates.

Chacón was recently released from a Venezuelan prison after her work helping youths and defending their human rights. Her work as director of Community Ambassador, a foundation that provides legal training to disadvantaged youths, resulted in her being charged with conspiracy and public incitement to commit crimes. She spent four months in Helicoide prison in Caracas sharing a cell with 26 other women amid reports of being denied access to sunlight, water and food.

While on conditional release from prison, Chacón must report to court every month and can be rearrested at any time.