Alumni Hall of Fame Class of 2022

Karen A. Newton Cole

Class of 1987

Karen A. Newton Cole is a Native Washingtonian who has dedicated her career to public service. Newton Cole is the Executive Director of Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) of the District of Columbia and has served as NLSP’s chief executive since July 2017. Under her direction, NLSP has expanded its Southeast presence – opening a full-service neighborhood law office staffed by attorneys from all practice areas to ensure wrap-around legal services in the community.

Newton Cole’s success as a proven fundraiser has resulted in the establishment of NLSP’s $1.2 million Thomas Williamson Endowment Fund, and the organization’s budget has doubled during her tenure as NLSP’s chief executive.

In 2018, Newton Cole received the Advocate for Justice Award from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers. Newton Cole is also a Commissioner on the DC Access to Justice Commission, a member of the NLADA Mutual Insurance Program Board of Directors, serves on the DC Bar Board of Governors and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Prior to joining NLSP, Newton Cole was a member of the Senior Executive Service with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for almost 20 years. While at HUD, she served in several key leadership roles including as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Troubled Agency Recovery in the Office of Public and Indian Housing, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations and Management in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, the Director of the Office of Receivership Oversight, the Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer and the Director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

Newton Cole began her legal career at NLSP as a Staff Attorney and then became the Managing Attorney of the lower northwest Neighborhood Law Office. She was a member (partner) at the public interest law firm Reno & Cavanaugh, PLLC, and her practice included legislative advocacy on public and Indian housing issues, representation of non-profit housing and low-income tenant organizations and litigation in the areas of housing and employment law.   

Newton Cole graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and received her Juris Doctor from UDC Law’s predecessor school. She also has a Master of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. Newton Cole is a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, District of Columbia Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (inactive).

Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas

Class of 1996

Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas is the Executive Director of Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc. (AJE), an organization founded by two of her DC School of Law classmates in 1996 to educate parents about their rights so they could advocate for the educational rights of their children. Hiligh-Thomas has over 25 years of direct legal experience working in the District of Columbia’s legal services community and has diverse experience in the nonprofit sector.

She currently leads the overall strategic operations, program development and partner development of AJE, where she has been since 2004. As the former Director of Legal Services and Advocacy and Senior Staff Attorney at AJE, Hiligh-Thomas developed a robust legal program that provides legal assistance to DC families with special education and school discipline matters. She has represented hundreds of parents and students in school discipline, special education and other education matters. In addition, Hiligh-Thomas provided extensive training to parents, youth, school staff and other professionals in those areas.

Before joining AJE, Hiligh-Thomas was the Assistant Director for Legal Operations at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP). She began her career at NLSP as a Covington & Burling Howard C. Westwood Fellow, and she spent over seven years providing free legal services to low-income D.C. residents in the areas of public entitlement, education, employment, social security benefits, housing, family and consumer law at the administrative, trial court and appellate levels.

Hiligh-Thomas is a native of D.C., the mother of four children and active in her local community. She has served on various committees and working groups in the D.C. Public school system. In 2020 she was re-appointed by Mayor Bowser to the State Advisory Panel for Special Education as a parent member, and she chairs the governance committee of a local public charter school. Also, she served on the steering committee of the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers for nine years (2012-2021) and served as Co-Chair for 4 of those years (2015-2019).

Hiligh-Thomas obtained her bachelor’s degree with honors from Tuskegee University and her law degree with honors from the District of Columbia School of Law. In 2017, she received the prestigious Jerrold Scoutt Prize from the DC Bar Foundation and the Advocate for Justice Award from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. 

Vanita "Saleema" Snow

Class of 1997

Vanita “Saleema” Snow is a Professor of Law and Director of the Youth Justice Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Through a critical race theory lens, her research focuses on youth justice, gender equity and the intersection of poverty, gender and access to justice. Her students have recognized her teaching in numerous ways including awarding her the Student Bar Association’s Outstanding Law Professor Award.

Professor Snow has spoken at numerous conferences and symposiums, including Yale School of Law, Harvard’s Critical Race Theory Conference and Georgetown University Law Center. Professor Snow’s scholarship has also appeared in various law journals, including Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice; Drexel Law Review; Pace Law Review and the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law (forthcoming). Her article, Reframing Radical Religion, which appeared in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Modern Critical Race Perspectives, argues that stigmatizing Muslims as terrorists emboldens xenophobia, racism and hate crimes. Equally significant, the stereotype garners widespread public support and judicial protections for discriminatory policies that adversely and disproportionately affect Muslims. Framing theory remains an important aspect of her scholarship in other substantive areas of law.

Before joining academia, Professor Snow spent over fifteen years representing low-income clients in the District of Columbia and in rural communities in Georgia. She began her legal career as a Covington & Burling Westwood Fellow at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program and represented hundreds of District of Columbia clients during her tenure. Her commitment to legal services continued at Georgia Legal Services Program, where she formed a state-wide education advocacy committee to address discriminatory practices against students of color in the school-to-prison pipeline.

At UDC Law, the Youth Justice Clinic continues this work by focusing on systems of oppression that support the school-to-prison pipeline. At its core, the Youth Justice Clinic seeks to improve outcomes for youth by amplifying racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and ensuring youth voices are positively amplified, seen and offered meaningful opportunities for success. 

Professor Snow serves on the board of the ACLU of DC. She is also the past president of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, former President of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and a former board member of the District of Columbia Bar Board of Governors. In recognition of her unwavering commitment to advancing justice, the Capital Area Muslim Bar Association awarded her its 2019 Impact Award. She was also an honoree of Harvard Law School’s International Women’s Day Portrait Exhibit: Women Inspiring Change.

LaRuby May

Class of 2006

LaRuby May is an inspirational lawyer, entrepreneur and strategist who has made it her life’s work to be a vessel of service for underserved communities. Under her law firm, May Jungᴸᴸᴾ, she has a wide range of experience representing clients in matters from workers’ compensation to complex litigation. She is committed to making sure her clients receive outstanding representation and understands that if she wants to see those around her receive essential resources she would have to take on the duty. Through her consulting firm The May Group, LLC, May has significant experience advising municipalities, small and large businesses, Mayors and other elected officials. The May Group has built partnerships with and supported the growth of businesses resulting in hundreds of millions in revenue. May represents clients across the country.

Currently, May serves on the Plaintiff’s Executive Committee (PEC) for Paraquat, representing clients who now suffer with the terminal illness of Parkinson’s disease. May has represented clients injured by PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) and currently represents clients injured by 3M earplugs and Zantac. Her focus is on identifying and supporting plaintiffs from a grassroots level, specifically Black and brown communities that are often disproportionately impacted and excluded from mass tort litigation.

She has focused considerable time and energy to hold general contractors accountable for providing safe working environments for their workers. Her state certification as a general contractor also gives her a unique perspective in her representation of families’ wrongful death suits.

May has been instrumental in arguing before the D.C. Council on several bills having a broad impact on not only the D.C. area but larger society, including the bill to decriminalize prostitution and to create equity between public and private workers’ compensation systems. The driving force behind May’s transition to personal injury law has been the life and legacy of a 12-year-old African American community leader and change agent name Stormiyah Denson-Jackson. May continues to lobby tirelessly for the Stormiyah Denson-Jackson Race and Gender Economic Damages Act to do away with the use of race, ethnicity or gender in a personal injury or death caused by wrongful act calculation of damages. May is a frequent speaker at conferences on topics ranging from mass torts, diversity, trauma, leadership, business and professional development.

Prior to practicing law, May succeeded the late Marion S. Barry as the Councilmember representing Ward 8 in The District of Columbia. This provided her with the opportunity to help guide senior leaders with different agendas to accomplish a common goal. Additionally, she has served the community working to improve the quality of life for underserved District Residents as the Chairman of the DC Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, Chairman of United Medical Center Board of Commissioners – the only public hospital in DC – and as the Committee Co-Chair of the ReOpen DC Advisory Group amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

May did her undergraduate studies at Eckerd College where she majored in Human Development. She went on to earn a Master of Arts from the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. May has a Masters Certificate in Project Management from Villanova University and is a proud graduate of the University of The District of Columbia David Clarke School of Law. May is admitted to practice in Washington, D.C., and Florida.

A native of Pensacola, Florida, May resides in Washington, D.C.