Attorney Melissa Lee joins Korematsu Center staff

November 08, 2016

Melissa LeeOnce an undergrad here studying Spanish and international studies, Melissa Lee now returns to Seattle University as a staff attorney at the law school's Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. 

"Seattle U's connection to social justice is so important to me," Lee said. "I'm really looking forward to working on issues relating to civil rights and equality with the law students."

Lee, a native of Boise, Idaho, graduated from New York University School of Law in 2004. Her first job was with Georgia Legal Services, where she used her fluency in Spanish to help migrant farmworkers with employment issues.

She returned to Seattle in 2006 to join Columbia Legal Services, where she served as staff attorney and later project coordinator and directing attorney for the Institutions Project. She led class actions and legislative advocacy on behalf of people confined in jails, prisons, juvenile detention, and other facilities throughout the state. 

Her advocacy included issues related to sexual assault of women prisoners, freedom of speech for hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center, access to medical care for prison inmates, cases of excessive force by law enforcement in Eastern Washington, and sentencing reform, including challenges to the state's "three strikes" law and juvenile life sentences without parole.

An especially memorable victory, she said, was the passage of legislation in 2016 that expands opportunities for former inmates to seek professional occupational licenses they might otherwise have been denied.

"We're thrilled that Melissa is joining us in the work of the center," said Executive Director Robert Chang. "She brings extraordinary experience in protecting the rights of marginalized communities and a record of leadership advancing social justice."

Along with staff attorney Jessica Levin '08, who joined the law school in December 2013, Lee will help support the center's litigation and advocacy efforts, including engaging students in that work through the center's Civil Rights Advocacy and Amicus Clinic, as well as outside of the clinic.

The two staff attorney positions are made possible by a generous donation to the Korematsu Center from Jim Degel '80 and Jeanne Berwick.