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Melody Vogel – passionate advocate and counselor for the indigent
Melody Vogel is one of those people to whom enrolling in law school appealed because of its reputation for intellectual stimulation and challenge. Beyond that, Melody had no preconceived notion of where the law would take her as she began her coursework at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
In just three short years, Melody found her passion – defending those who cannot afford to pay for their own legal representation.
That realization came during her semester in the Public Defender Clinic, which is supervised by attorney Jeff Roth, Clinic Coordinator in the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender, and a 1996 alumnus of the College of Law. Clinic students zealously represent indigent people charged with felonies, handling everything from preliminary hearings and witness interviews to jury trials, plea agreements and sentencing hearings.
But without financial support from the College of Law, society’s most needy individuals likely would have one less legal advocate.
“ASU made it possible for me to go to law school,” Melody said with a dazzling smile. “I could have taken out loans, but I probably would not have made that choice, because I don’t like the idea of being in debt to begin with.”
Melody received scholarships totaling $51,348 to attend the College of Law, and she more than earned her keep.
She received the 2011-2012 Outstanding Staff Writer Award from the Arizona State Law Journal, earned the CALI Award for highest grade in Torts and Legal Advocacy, and was a Willard H. Pedrick Scholar. Additionally, Melody was Articles Editor, Staff Writer and Articles Committee Member for the Law Journal, Vice President of the Muslim Law Students Association, and volunteered in the Homeless Legal Assistance Project, the Juvenile Legal Assistance Program and the Advocacy Program Against Domestic Violence. She also joined the Chicano/Latino Law Students Association and the Women Law Students’ Association.
Melody was a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant in legal writing and legal advocacy for Professor Chad Noreuil, who called her one of the best students he’s had during his 12 years at the College of Law.
“Her research and writing skills were second to none, and I was fortunate enough to have her assist me in the publication of two books and two articles as my Research Assistant,” Noreuil said. “I can honestly say that none of these writing projects would have been as good without her input and assistance. Moreover, as my Teaching Assistant, she was invaluable in mentoring first-year law students on their writing and oral arguments.
“I am sad to lose her to graduation, but I know she will go out into the world and truly make a positive impact,” he noted.
Melody first fell in love with Arizona when, as a high school student, she bought a Greyhound bus ticket to make the long journey from her home in the sleepy Air Force town of Warner Robins, Ga., to the dusty high desert.
“I was reading Grapes of Wrath, and there were such parallels for me – they were going west, and I was, too,” she said. “The palm trees, Tempe – this little oasis in the middle of Phoenix, sunshine, fresh air. This was the place for me.”
Melody enrolled in ASU as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. She became an active volunteer on campus through Barrett, The Honors College, Kappa Alpha Theta and Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, and as a member of the Muslim Students Association. Melody graduated, summa cum laude, from ASU in 2008 with a degree in French, and a certificate in Arabic Studies.
Staying in Arizona for law school was a natural choice for Melody, and with its growing national reputation as a legal studies center that offers stellar academics and myriad practical experiences, ASU was her top choice.
During her 1L summer, Melody whetted her appetite for international law. She studied abroad in The Hague, Belgium, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, where she took courses, participated in conferences and attended trials in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Justice.
Later in her law school career, Melody did an externship at the ACLU, an experience that piqued her interest in constitutional law, specifically free speech issues.
“When I entered law school, it was everything I was looking for. It was an incredible academic challenge learning to analyze cases,” she said. “But my biggest issue in law school had been public speaking, so during my very first week in the Public Defender Clinic, I thought I was going to have to quit! The next week, Jeff had me in court, and I think I stumbled, but it got easier.
“It was an emotional experience, meeting with the clients and hearing their stories. I realized the reason I was so interested in criminal law is because of the overall experience with the clients. And I learned that it’s not just about fixing the symptoms, but diagnosing and repairing the problem,” she noted.
“My biggest takeaway is that it’s not about you, it’s about this client you are representing, and that you have the opportunity to be not just their advocate, but their counselor.”
Melody, who graduated second in the Class of 2013, said she is indebted to the College of Law, not only for its financial support, but for the encouragement she received at every turn, from faculty, administration and staff. “I never once walked into the Career Center and had them say, ‘You can’t come in here, we can’t help you, you don’t have an appointment.’
“That’s the biggest plus to coming to ASU,” she said. “If you work hard and take classes, you can get a good education almost anywhere. But here, the externships, the clinics, the opportunities to work with great professors, all these things add up.”
Next up for Melody: clerking for Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch.
“My Dad always said anything worth doing is worth doing well, so that’s sort of been my philosophy,” she said.
Now, that’s a good investment.