UB Law Alumni to Honor Five Alumni, Mutua at Annual Dinner

By Ilene Fleischmann

Release Date: April 25, 2008

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Francis Letro will be recognized by the UB Law Alumni Association for his leadership by example as private practitioner.

Denise O'Donnell will be recognized by the UB Law Alumni Association for her commitment to public service.

Thomas Black will receive the UB Law Alumni Association's award for his exemplary performance and business.

David Mahoney will be honored by the UB Alumni Association for his conscientious and diligent performance in the judiciary.

Daniel Lukasik will be recognized by the UB Alumni Association for his many contributions to the betterment of our community.

Interim Dean Makau Mutua will receive the UB Law School Alumni Association's award for outstanding service to the university and the community by a non-alumnus.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Law School will honor five graduates and Interim Dean Makau Mutua with Distinguished Alumni Awards at its 46th annual UB Law Alumni Association meeting and dinner at 6 p.m. May 1 in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

All six award recipients will be recognized for their valuable contributions to the legal profession and the community. The dinner will mark the end of the Law Alumni Association's membership drive for 2008-09.

"We are fortunate at UB to have such remarkable alumni and friends," said UB Law Alumni Association President Margaret P. Gryko. "This is an exceptionally worthy group of recipients. Their leadership and accomplishments have contributed enormously to our Law School, community and legal profession."

Mutua, the only non-UB Law School graduate in the group of recipients, will receive his award for outstanding service to the university and the community by a non-alumnus. The award will be presented by UB President John B. Simpson. Currently interim dean of UB Law School, he is a SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at the school.

Educated at the University of Nairobi, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Harvard Law School, Mutua directs the Buffalo Human Rights Center and teaches international human rights, international business transactions and international law.

While on sabbatical in his native Kenya, Mutua was appointed by the Kenyan government to chair the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. He also was a delegate to the National Constitutional Conference, the forum that produced a contested draft constitution for Kenya.

Mutua is the author of "Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique," as well as numerous scholarly articles exploring topical subjects in international law, human rights and religion. He serves as chairman of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and sits on the boards of several international organizations.

Mutua has conducted numerous human rights, diplomatic and rule of law missions to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The five alumni to receive awards are:

-- The Hon. David J. Mahoney. A retired justice from the New York State Supreme Court Eighth Judicial District, Mahoney '52 began drawing cartoons as a Canisius College student for the school newspaper, The Griffin. He continued drawing after graduating from the UB Law School with a monthly cartoon in the Erie County Bar Association's Bar Bulletin, even as he built a career in private practice and then as a judge.

Now retired as a judge, Mahoney will receive an award "for his conscientious and diligent performance in the judiciary."

Mahoney began his career practicing in litigation with the firm now known as Offermann, Cassano, Greco & Slisz. He handled a number of constitutional cases there, including a part in the Buffalo schools desegregation case. He also served as counsel to the Buffalo branch of the NAACP, and as president of the Erie County Bar Association in 1991-92.

Mahoney, a Republican, first ran for the bench in 1993. His caseload has included civil and matrimonial matters. In 2002 the Bar Association recognized him with an award as outstanding jurist.

-- Francis M. Letro. Letro who graduated from UB's Law School in 1979, will be recognized "for his leadership by example as private practitioner." Letro limits his solo practice to representing plaintiffs in personal injury actions. He has appeared in New York State Supreme Court, the New York State Court of Claims and U.S. District Court, as well as pursuing appeals in the Appellate Division, Fourth Department and in the New York State Court of Appeals.

He has served on the board of directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association for 20 years. Letro was the founding president of the Western Affiliate of the state association. He also is active with the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

A frequent lecturer to national, state and local bar associations, Letro often discusses his experiences with lawyers and judges about trial practice and procedure. He has served on several statewide and local judicial screening panels, and is a past member of the Judiciary Committee of the Erie County Bar Association. The Law School's first-floor working courtroom is named in his honor.

-- Daniel T. Lukasik. A managing partner of the Buffalo law firm Cantor, Lukasik, Dolce & Panepinto where he practices plaintiff's personal injury law, Lukasik '88 will be recognized "for his many contributions to the betterment of our community."

A native of Newfane in Niagara County, Lukasik graduated from Buffalo State College before working his way through UB Law School. "While attending college, I worked the graveyard shift as a janitor at Tops Markets," he writes. "The pay wasn't much and I couldn't afford a car, so I walked everywhere."

Lukasik has been chosen by Super Lawyers as one of the top plaintiff's personal injury attorneys in upstate New York; he has been named by the Buffalo Law Journal to its Who's Who list as one of the top personal injury attorneys in Buffalo, and named to the Million Dollar Advocate's Forum; and has received the New York State Bar Association's Merit Award for Public Service.

Lukasik has written about his struggle with clinical depression and has tried to assist other attorneys who suffer from the disease. He recently launched a supportive Web site, http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com.

-- Denise E. O'Donnell. As commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, O'Donnell '82 runs a criminal justice support agency that collects and analyzes statewide crime data, operates the DNA databank and criminal fingerprint file and administers the state's Sex Offender Registry. O'Donnell's award recognizes "her commitment to public service."

O'Donnell also serves as assistant secretary to the governor, overseeing the state's key public safety and criminal justice agencies, including the State Police, the Department of Corrections and the Division of Parole. Additionally, she chairs the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, the Forensic Science Commission and the New York State Motor Vehicle Theft and Insurance Fraud Prevention Board.

A former federal prosecutor, she was the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. After leaving federal government in 2001, O'Donnell became a litigation partner at Hodgson Russ before being appointed to her current position.

She has taught as an adjunct professor at UB Law, and served as president of the UB Law Alumni Association.

Thomas E. Black Jr.: Black '79 will receive an award "for his exemplary performance and business." He is managing partner of Black, Mann & Graham in Flower Mound, Texas, practicing in the area of residential real estate law. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he studied government and international relations, as well as UB Law School.

Before moving to Texas to practice law, Black was president of Rancho Mortgage Corp. in Upland, Calif. He was also senior vice president of Western Bank Mortgage Co. in Costa Mesa, Calif., and has held production positions with some of the nation's largest mortgage companies, including Columbia First Bank, Arlington, Va.; B.F. Saul Mortgage Co., Chevy Chase, Md.; Empire Realty Credit Corp., Buffalo; and Foster Mortgage Co., Fort Worth, Texas. He also served as general counsel to Goldome Realty Credit Corp. in Buffalo.

He was awarded the Faculty Fellow Award and the Master Faculty Fellow Award by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Black serves as chairman of the Dean's Advisory Council at UB Law.

Major sponsors for the event include Alan Fenster Associates, Inc., M&T Bank, Structured Financial Associates Inc., CTG and LCS, Inc.

Alumni who have not renewed or joined the association for this year are requested to send in their $50 dues to the Alumni Office, 312 O'Brian Hall, Buffalo, .Y. 14260. For more information on the dinner, or to make reservations, call UB Law Alumni office at 645-2107 or email law-alumni@buffalo.edu