Jose Ortega, 3L
The directors of the University of Miami School of Law clinics voted to confer the 2021 Markus Award on Jose Ortega, a rising third-year student, for the exemplary work he did in the Immigration Clinic.
“Jose displays the qualities of an ideal clinic student and aspiring lawyer. He is skilled at research and writing. He is patient and thoughtful, with his clients, clinic partner, and supervisors. He knows when to step up and step back in class discussions and supervision meetings. He will be a terrific lawyer,” said Rebecca Sharpless, founding director of the Immigration Clinic.
“As always, we are grateful for the Markus family for their support of our clinical program and this opportunity to recognize students who excel in their clinical work,” said Kele Stewart, associate dean of experiential education.
Award named for empathetic alumnus
Miami Law alumnus Stuart Markus began practicing law in Miami in 1958 and worked as a trial attorney for 55 years. He was well-known for representing the “little guy,” often without accepting a fee. He was “the last small-town lawyer in this big town,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, a longtime friend. After his death in late 2013 at age 81, his family established the Markus Award at Miami Law, which recognizes a student each year for outstanding work in one of the law school’s in-house clinics.
“My dad practiced law in Miami for over 50 years,” said son David Markus, a well-known South Florida defense attorney. “Throughout his career, he fought hard for his clients in every area of the law. He never turned away a person in need, and helped countless people with practical, hands-on advice and representation that went far above and beyond the norm.
“My wife, Mona, and I established the Markus Award to honor a student who shares that caring spirit, and who has made a meaningful difference in someone’s life – which is something my dad did every day,” said David Markus. “Jose embodies the mission of the award.”
Outstanding student tackled multiple cases
“I am incredibly honored and grateful to receive this award, especially after reading about Mr. Stuart Markus and his legacy,” said Ortega. “Participating in the Immigration Clinic has been the most rewarding part of my law school education. The law school’s clinical program gives students like me an opportunity to enhance our academic experience by allowing us to take part in critical cases and carry out meaningful work. I hope to continue doing similar work in the future.”
In the first part of the semester, Ortega worked on the U.S. district court case of a Somali man who had been in civil immigration detention for three and a half years. The man was one of the group of 92 men and women who were shackled and abused for two days on board a failed Immigration and Customs Enforcement flight in December 2017.
The client, a class member in our COVID-19 lawsuit Gayle v. Assistant Field Office Director, was seeking release based on constitutional theories relating to his prolonged detention as well as the fact that he was at risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19 due to his medical vulnerabilities. Ortega helped prep the client for his testimony and worked with our medical expert witness to prepare her for direct examination. He also prepared a separate, detailed request asking ICE to release the client as a matter of discretion.
Ortega also worked on two class action lawsuits. The first case, CFC v. Miami-Dade County, challenges the county jail’s detention of people based solely on a detainer request from ICE. Ortega participated in strategy discussions with co-counsel and settlement negotiations with opposing counsel and drafted nuanced internal memos on key legal points relating to the lawsuit, which helped to guide the case strategy.
Most recently, Ortega volunteered to work on the case of a man who has been detained by ICE for 17 months and is on a hunger strike, having not eaten for over a month. This case was an emergency and came to the clinic at the end of the semester. Ortega chose to work on the case on top of his other clinic work and despite not needing the clinic hours. The clinic got involved after ICE filed an action in U.S. district court asking for authorization to force feed the client, something that is against medical ethics and human rights norms. Over weekends, Ortega worked with clinic leadership, co-counsel, and two other clinic students to draft a 40-page habeas petition with multiple exhibits. He also worked (voluntarily) on our reply to the government’s return of the habeas petition.
“Our Immigration Clinic is handling several major federal cases on behalf of immigration detainees,” said Stewart. “Jose has excelled on a range of tasks including preparing client and expert testimony, preparing for and participating in settlement negotiations, and drafting a habeas petition. He has voluntarily gone above and beyond what was required to meet his clinical obligations.”