Lysette Romero Receives New Mary Han Spirit Award

Scott Hughes and Lysette Romero
Professor Scott Hughes presents Lysette Romero with the Mary Han Spirit Award.

Not long after the shocking death in 2010 of their friend, Mary Han (`85), Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen (`85) and Scott Sandlin, a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, began considering how they could honor her life, her essence and the unyielding commitment she gave to her clients.

They decided to establish an award that would be presented every year to a graduating student at the University of New Mexico School of Law. The Mary Han Spirit Award made its debut at the 2012 Honors and Awards Ceremony the evening prior to commencement, along with four other new awards.

The inaugural Mary Han Spirit Award went to Lysette Romero (`12), who interestingly was born the year Han earned her J.D. from the UNM School of Law. In accordance to the parameters set by Molzen and Sandlin, the award was to go to a student who demonstrated verve, independence, a fierce dedication to fairness/social justice and a robust sense of humor.

After getting to know Romero over lunch this summer, Molzen and Sandlin were moved and inspired by her path to law school, and impressed with how closely she met the criteria they had set for the award.

Romero grew up in El Rito and set her sights on law school at UNM before she had entered high school. With no lawyers in her family to turn to for advice, her father, who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, spread the word and through colleagues, he met Cindy Lovato Farmer (`93). She was working in the lab’s employment and litigation group before joining Sandia National Laboratories, where she now works.

Mary Han
Mary Han ('85)

Lovato-Farmer, who had grown up at the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, welcomed the opportunity to serve as Romero’s mentor. Throughout high school, Romero met with Lovato-Farmer every two weeks, and once Romero was an undergraduate at UNM, Lovato-Farmer continued to advise her on classes to take that would best prepare her for law school. The two northern New Mexico natives also kept in touch throughout Romero’s law-school years.

Lovato-Farmer’s support and advice was especially welcome when a case Romero received during her clinical rotation required her to appear before U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez. Not only had Lovato-Farmer clerked for Vazquez after law school, but Lovato-Farmer also argued her first case, before the New Mexico Supreme Court, during her clinical rotation in law school.

“I told Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez at the very beginning of clinic, when she asked what we wanted out of clinic that I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted, but I was certain that I did not want to be in court – ever. So when this case blew up, and I had to litigate it – from answering complaints, doing discovery, writing and arguing motions and examining witnesses on the stand – I was terrified,” said Romero. “Now that I think about it, I feel really fortunate that I was able to handle such a challenging case before I was even out of law school.”

She also feels fortunate to be the first recipient of an award that pays tribute to someone she never knew, but who she knows she would like as a woman and respect as a lawyer. “It’s an honor to receive an award for something that recognizes something beyond academics,” said Romero, who will soon begin a clerkship with Justice Edward Chavez (`81) of the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Molzen and Sandlin look forward to funding the award every year. “We wanted people to remember the qualities that made Mary Han a special person,” said Molzen.

The other new awards that made their debut this year were:
The Dawinder S. Sidhu Award Recognizing a Commitment to Enhancing Civics Education in Traditionally Underserved Communities
Award for Achievement in Consumer Protection Law
Award for Achievement in Public Interest Law
Award for Achievement in Immigration and International Law
ABA/BNA Award Recognizing Excellence in Employment and Labor Law

June 22, 2012