Alessia Riccio ’22 Becomes a Public Defender


Crossing the commencement stage at St. John’s Carnesecca Arena, Alessia Riccio stopped and turned to face the crowd of celebrants. As Dean Michael A. Simons placed the ceremonial hood over her head to applause and cheers, she looked up into the stands, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man who has been her biggest supporter on her path to becoming a public defender.

“My dad inspired me to go to law school,” says Riccio, who was raised in Smithtown on Long Island. “He came to the United States from Italy when he was 21 years old, uprooting his life to move to a country he had never been to before. He wanted to create a better life for his future family. And, after watching his hard work and dedication navigating life as an immigrant, I knew I wanted to help make life easier for people like him with the privilege I’ve been given.”

As she pursued her studies at St. John’s Law, Riccio was drawn to the work of the Public Interest Center, which offers students a range of opportunities to help underserved and marginalized individuals and communities. The Center’s signature event, the annual Public Interest Auction, raises significant funds to support the Law School’s Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program and other public service initiatives. Ricco was the beneficiary of the event’s fundraising success, receiving a fellowship to work with the Exoneration Initiative the summer after her 1L year.

It was a formative time. “That summer, I had my first hands-on experience with criminal law and incarcerated clients,” Riccio shares. “I read our clients’ stories, spoke to their families, and researched innocence arguments. With that insight, I embodied the truth I already knew deep down: Each of my clients is a human with a story that deserves to be heard. I knew that I wanted to work directly with clients facing criminal charges to hear their stories, empathize with their experiences, and help them avoid the dangers of entering the criminal system.”

The next summer, as a repeat fellowship recipient, Riccio interned at the Legal Aid Society’s Decarceration Project, and then stayed on as a 3L to work in the organization’s Manhattan Criminal Defense Practice. “My two fellowship summers were vital to my success and growth in law school and on my career path,” she says. “As a first-generation student, it seemed impossible to intern without getting paid. But I wasn’t willing to give up my dream of working in the public interest and helping others. The Fellowship Program made that dream a reality, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Now, as a new St. John’s Law graduate, Riccio looks forward to starting her career at Brooklyn Defenders in the fall. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for almost three years. Every client I’ve met so far, every story I’ve listened to, every creative legal argument I’ve crafted has led me here. I’m thankful that my law degree has given me the power to represent my clients—not to speak for them or take away their individuality, but to bolster their voices and provide them with the opportunities they deserve. I know public defense work won’t be easy, but I’m my father’s daughter. I have his fighting spirit, and I’m ready.”

This year’s Public Interest Auction took place online and in person. With its success, and with additional support from generous alumni and friends, the Law School announced its 2022 Summer Public Interest Fellows and their placements:

  1. Christa Alexander ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  2. Esteban Angeles (Hon. John Lansden)
  3. Dana Aprigliano ‘24 (Hon. Frederic Block)
  4. Nadia Balkaran ’23 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
  5. Brittany Battista ’23 (Nassau DA)
  6. Carly Berntsen ’23 (Staten Island DA)
  7. Katherine Bessey ‘23 (Nassau DA)
  8. Natalie Bissoon ’23 (Hon. Marguerite Grays)
  9. Ariel Booker ’24 (D.C. Superior Courts)
  10. Zachary Bosak ’24 (NYS Division of Human Rights)
  11. Naya Brown-Yohay ‘24 (Hon. Troy Webber)
  12. Luisa Paz Canton ’23 (U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes)
  13. Bida Chen ’23 (New York Legal Assistance Group)
  14. Patrick Clancey ’23 (NJ Attorney General)
  15. James Clark ’24 (JASA)
  16. Annalise Cruz ’24 (New Economy Project)
  17. Ann Curatolo ’24 (Staten Island DA)
  18. Anthony Curry ’24 (Los Angeles County Public Defender)
  19. Sandra Deng ’24 (The Celina & Sonia Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program)
  20. Myah Drouin ’24 (U.S. Postal Service)
  21. Samantha Felix ’24 (National Lawyers Guild)
  22. Mitchell Ford ’23 (NYC Administration for Children’s Services)
  23. Claire Frink ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  24. Anthony Gambino ’24 (NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene)
  25. Rebecca Goldberg ’24 (Hon. Ramon Reyes)
  26. Seth Goldstein ’24 (NYS Attorney General)
  27. Allison Guerra ’24 (African Services Committee)
  28. Princess Hanson ‘24 (Suffolk DA)
  29. Kimberly Henry ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  30. Mary Johnson ’24 (Hon. Joseph Bianco)
  31. Leeal Kahen ’24 (Hon. Alexandra Murphy)
  32. Erin Kelly ’24 (Lansner & Kubitschek)
  33. Emma Lammers ’23 (Long Island Advocacy Center)
  34. Rachele Lena ’24 (Legal Services of the Hudson Valley)
  35. Spencer Luchs ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  36. Julia Mackey ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  37. Gissel Marquez ’23 (Safe Passage Project)
  38. Cecelia Masselli ’23 (Center for Popular Democracy)
  39. Charles McCracken ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  40. Sabrina McDonald ’23 (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem)
  41. Natalie Mishkin ’24 (NYC Administration for Children’s Services)
  42. Gabrielle Mompalao ’24 (Hon. Gerald Lebovits)
  43. Julianny Monegro ’24 (Riseboro Community Partnership)
  44. Rashad Moore ’23 (Center for Appellate Litigation)
  45. Jacob Mortenson ’23 (Suffolk County Human Rights Commission)
  46. Takunda Muziwi ’24 (Hon. Hector Gonzalez)
  47. Darren Nieves ’24 (Nassau County Supreme Court)
  48. Madeline O’Reilly ’24 (Nassau County Supreme Court)
  49. Raven Owen ’24 (Hon. Evan Inlaw)
  50. Yuna Park ’24 (Catholic Migration Services)
  51. Alexa Parrella ’24 (Staten Island Legal Services)
  52. Michael Pecorella ’23 (Nassau DA)
  53. Abigail Rafael ’24 (Legal Aid Society)
  54. Ezra Rash ’23 (Legal Aid Society)
  55. Ramoya Rattigan ’23 (NYC Department of Social Services)
  56. Tracy Remy ’24 (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority)
  57. Mary Rizk ’23 (African Services Committee)
  58. Arthur Rohman ’24 (Catholic Charities)
  59. Kathryn-Rose Russotto ’24 (Hon. Steven Locke)
  60. Andrew Scott ’24 (Queens County Housing Court)
  61. Christine Seo ’23 (Hon. Joel M. Cohen)
  62. Marianna Sheedy ’23 (Disability Rights New York)
  63. Abigail Sloan ‘23 (New York Legal Assistance Group)
  64. Alex Snow ’24 (NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission)
  65. Michael Solimani ’23 (Hon. Alan Trust)
  66. Lizzie Spano ’24 (The Safe Center LI)
  67. Christopher Tasso ’24 (Westchester DA)
  68. Gabriel Tejada ’23 (U.S. Attorney’s Office EDNY)
  69. Michael Testa ’24 (Advocates for Children of New York)
  70. Mathews Thankachan ’24 (Hon. Teresa Corrigan)
  71. Sydney Treves ’24 (Clark County Public Defender)
  72. Emily Trumble ’24 (Orleans Public Defenders)
  73. Stephanos Tsarnas ’24 (Nassau DA)
  74. Julie Varughese ’23 (NYC Department of Environmental Protection)
  75. Ligner Vazquez ’24 (Queens Legal Services)
  76. Samantha Velez ’24 (Legal Aid Society)
  77. Juliana Ventresca ’24 (Riverkeeper)
  78. Audrey Victor ’24 (Catholic Charities)
  79. Kymberley Walcott-Aggrey ’24 (Catholic Charities)
  80. Laurel Wanger ’24 (Hon. Katherine Levine)
  81. Timothy Zurcher ’24 (Catholic Charities

Together, these 81 fellowships will provide around $460,000 in support for deserving St. John’s Law students as they build practical knowledge and skills this summer. To learn more about the Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program and related support opportunities, please contact Ashleigh Georgia Kashimawo, Director of Public Interest Programming, at [email protected].