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2015 Distinguished Alumni of the Year Awards a Huge Success

President and Dean Niels B. Schaumann, Tammy Sumontha '00, Charles R. Grebing '70, Hon. Karen Shichman Crawford '80, Michael A. Semanchik '10

California Western’s second annual Distinguished Alumni of the Year Awards was a celebration of what it means to be a graduate of the law school and the spirit of pride at the event could not have been more evident.

It was a huge success!

Hundreds of graduates gathered at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter on Saturday September 26, to honor this year’s awardees at a gala dinner—the best attendance the event has ever had.

In partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Alumni Association Board of Directors, four alumni were honored for their outstanding service to the law school, the community and the legal profession.  

All of the honorees spoke of the strong principles the law school teaches its students and how these principles have influenced their successful careers.

California Innocence Project (CIP) staff attorney Michael A. Semanchik ’10 was presented with the 2015 Rising Star Award for his exceptional accomplishments, including his recent victory where Mike and other staff lawyers on the CIP team won a judge’s ruling of factual innocence for Reggie Cole, a client who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years.

“We are going to continue to do everything we can to get the innocent out of prison,” said Semanchik as he accepted the award. “It all started with California Western having an innocence project and giving us the opportunity to work toward freeing innocent people from prison.”

Tammy Sumontha ’00 was presented with the 2015 Outstanding Community Service Award for her volunteer work at ACCESS Inc., an organization that provides job training, education, empowerment opportunities, and immigration assistance to low-income residents. Sumontha is the managing attorney at the Law Offices of Tammy Sumontha.

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen for this award,” Sumontha said. “I thank California Western for creating so many wonderful programs, such as the Community Law Project, and the Access to Law Initiative, which provided me and other lawyers with wonderful opportunities to be able to give back to our local community.”

The 2015 Outstanding Judicial Officer Award was given to The Honorable Karen Shichman Crawford ’80, a United States District Court Magistrate Judge. Judge Crawford is the first recipient of this award and she felt honored to be recognized.

“My time at California Western opened my eyes to so much,” said Judge Crawford. “I learned to use my tenacity and debate skills as advocacy tools, to write persuasively, and the fundamental and practical skills necessary to pursue a successful legal career. For this I am most grateful.”

Charles. R. Grebing ’70 was honored with the 2015 Alumni of the Year Award, joking that he probably got the award because he is the oldest alumnus still practicing law. Grebing is the Senior Partner at Wingert, Grebing Brubaker and Juskie and has been honored again and again for his accomplishments and leadership in the legal profession.

In his acceptance, Grebing said that “California Western is not just turning out students who are knowledgeable about substantive and procedural law, but they are students who are being taught to care for their clients. Professionalism, civility and respect for the client’s position is something that has to be taken into account.”

The evening also marked a reunion for several classes of California Western alumni, and everyone felt it was a great success.

“The alumni dinner was a great way to celebrate California Western’s community, the education it provided us all and acknowledge the amazing work of our alumni," said Alumni Association President Deborah S. Dixon '07. "In each region, California Western has strong leaders, successful attorneys, and dedicated public servants. It was inspiring and rewarding to reconnect with the alumni community."