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2015 Archives

SMU Dedman School of Law honors distinguished professionals through Alumni Awards

March 19, 2015

DALLAS (SMU) — Five successful legal, business and public service professionals are in the spotlight March 19 as SMU Dedman School of Law presents its 28th annual Distinguished Alumni Awards.

A longstanding tradition at the law school, the Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest and most prestigious award Dedman School of Law can bestow upon its alumni. An alumni committee selects recipients who are standouts in their respective fields, and an honorary award given at the invitation-only ceremony also acknowledges exceptional service to the law school.

This year’s awards and recipients are:

Mary Elizabeth Cedillo-Pereira ’99
2015 Distinguished Alumni Emerging Leader Award

Mary Elizabeth Cedillo-PereiraMary Elizabeth “Liz” Cedillo-Pereira is the managing attorney with Cedillo-Pereira and Associates PLLC, an immigration and nationality law practice that represents individuals, families, businesses and government entities. Cedillo-Pereira is board certified in immigration and nationality law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and lectures on immigration law as a faculty member with the UT School of Law Immigration Law conference and the State Bar of Texas Immigration law course. In 2007 she co-founded the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Dallas’ “Know Your Rights” project for detained individuals. She also is a member of AILA’s Military Assistance Program as well as Dream Defenders. 

The Dallas native is a graduate of North Dallas High School and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993. Following college graduation, Cedillo-Pereira served on staff for two U.S. Congress members: the Lucille Roybal-Allard and Eddie Bernice Johnson. She also has worked as a consultant for Dean International. In 1999, she earned her J.D. from SMU Dedman School of Law, where she was named the John Kennedy Outstanding 3L Woman.

Upon graduation, Cedillo-Pereira joined Patton Boggs LLP as an associate. With an interest in immigration matters, she moved to the Texas-Mexico border to work with renowned attorney Lisa Brodyaga, and afterward returned home to create with Catholic Charities-Dallas a court representation program for pro se immigrants in North Texas.

Cedillo-Pereira has received many awards for her legal and community-empowerment advocacy work. She received the Ohtli Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation of Mexico, the highest honor bestowed on a Mexican or Mexican-American citizen. Named by KERA as a “Texas Trailblazer,” she has received the “Groundbreaker Award” from the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the “Young Entrepreneur Award” by the Consulate General of Mexico, an “Emerge Leadership” Award from Poder Magazine and in 2013 was appointed to the American Bar Association National Commission on Immigration. She was recognized as a “Best Lawyer in America” in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and was named a “Best Lawyer in Dallas” by D Magazine in 2014 and 2015. 

Cedillo-Pereira has played a key leadership role in many charitable organizations, including the Dallas Foundation, the Callejo-Botello Foundation and the Hispanic Bar Foundation, for which she focused on educational initiatives. She recently assisted the Texas Access to Justice Foundation in leading “Texas DACA Day,” a statewide program providing legal services to those eligible for deferred action across the state.

Siriporn Chaiyasuta ’85
2015 Distinguished Global Alumni Award

Siriporn ChaiyasutaBased in London, Siriporn Chaiyasuta is general counsel for Chevron Europe, Eurasia and Middle East Exploration & Production Limited. She leads a team of more than 50 lawyers and manages Chevron’s legal portfolio for all exploration and production business in the region, harboring the world’s most productive oil and gas basins in 14 countries of the North Sea and Caspian Region of the Middle East, including the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Greenland, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. 

After the 2005 merger between Unocal and Chevron, Chaiyasuta was named Chevron’s Managing Counsel over the Asia Pacific Region, managing Chevron’s legal operations for China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  She was later assigned to Chevron’s California headquarters as the Advisor to the Vice President of Upstream Law.

The Bangkok native is a sixth-generation lawyer from a long line of judges from Thailand, where she has been instrumental in building legal infrastructure and expanding open and fair markets.     Chaiyasuta has been a driving force behind key legislation aimed at reforming the Thai legal system for businesses and the community, and has been an advisor on these critical reforms to the Prime Minister of Thailand and Thai parliament. 

In 1984 she received her Bachelor of Law degree from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, and in 1985 graduated from SMU Dedman School of Law with her LL.M. degree. In 1986 she earned a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. 

As a board member for numerous professional and civic organizations, Chaiyasuta has lectured at Thai universities including the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business at Chulalongkorn University (a joint program with the Kellogg School of Management and Wharton School of Business), Thammasart University and Assumption University. She also has written academic publications and articles on legal issues related to commercial transactions, contracts, energy, labor practices, governance and transparency. 

Chaiyasuta’s many awards and honors include the “Royal Decoration Knight Grand Cross” (First Class) of Direkgunabhon and Thailand’s “In-House Counsel of the Year” Award.

G. Michael Gruber ’81
2015 Distinguished Alumni Award for Private Practice

G. Michael GruberG. Michael “Mike” Gruber is a founding partner of Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank LLP. Primarily a defense attorney, successes include a $125 million dollar judgment involving Blockbuster in favor of its first major investors, a $30 million dollar verdict against Shell Oil in a fraud case, and a more than $18 million dollar verdict against pharmaceutical company Hoffman-Laroche in one of the largest sexual harassment verdicts in the country. And this year he took the soon-to-be decided Wellness v. Sharif case, on bankruptcy court and federal magistrate jurisdiction, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gruber, a Dallas native, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, and attended SMU both for his undergraduate studies and for law school. While at SMU Dedman School of Law he was president of the Student Bar Association, editor of the SMU Law Review, and led efforts to create a minority recruitment committee, implement minority scholarships and create a tutorial project. After earning his law degree 1981, Gruber’s generosity toward SMU Dedman Law has resulted in two key gathering spaces bearing his name: the Godwin Gruber Courtroom and the Godwin Gruber Lawyer’s Inn. 

Gruber has served on the board of the Dallas Zoo for more than 20 years, most recently as chairman, leading the Habitat for Humanity campaign to raise $100 million dollars to rebuild Dallas’ southern sector. He is as a board member for the Lt. Governor’s Transition Committee on Education and Workforce and has been a councilman for the City of DeSoto. Gruber has invested in such charitable organizations as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, North Texas Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Children’s Education Fund, and Entrepreneurs for North Texas Foundation — and all have benefitted from the leadership roles he has played.

He has received the “Sager Award” from The Minority Corporate Counsel Association, which recognizes the Southwest’s most diverse law firms. He has been named a “Texas Super Lawyer” for more than 10 years and, since 2008, D Magazine has recognized him as a “Best Lawyer in Dallas” for business litigation.  Gruber has recently received the Award of Excellence from the Dallas Association for Young Lawyers and the Justinian Award for Community Service. 

William O. Holston, Jr., ’81
2015 Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service

William O. Holston Jr.William O. “Bill” Holston, Jr., is executive director of Human Rights Initiative (HRI) of North Texas. Before joining HRI in 2012 he volunteered his services for the organization, founded in 2000 to provide legal and support services to refugees and immigrants who have suffered human rights abuses, as well as to advocate for justice and promote international human rights.

Before 2012, he practiced law with Sullivan & Holston, serving as an AV-rated attorney with extensive experience in trial and appellate law, along with arbitrations and mediations in state and federal court. He focused on trying federal and state court jury and bench cases involving bankruptcy and creditor rights, business transactions, civil trial and appellate issues, church and canon law, equipment leasing law, probate law and surety law.

From 1998 until 2012 Holston was a member of the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas and has provided pro bono legal representation for political and religious asylum applicants from 20 countries since 1987. He is a member of the Pro Bono Activities Committee of the Dallas Bar Association (DBA), a committee he has chaired twice.

Since 2008, Holston has been a mentor to young lawyers in the DBA’s Transition to Law Committee, chairing its planning committee in 2014. He is past board president for the Legal Aid organization, Proyecto Adelante, and a past board member of the nonprofit group Art Conspiracy.

In 1997, he received the “Outstanding Political Asylum Lawyer Award” from the Dallas Bar Association; in 2002, the “Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award” from the Dallas Bar Association’s Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program; in 2005, the “Angel of Freedom Award” from HRI; and in 2014, the “President’s Award” from the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association.

Holston earned his B.A. from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1978 and his J.D. from SMU Dedman School of Law in 1981.

A former Eagle Scout and certified Master Naturalist, Holston has written hiking-related articles for D Magazine and led nature hikes on Dallas’ Buckeye Trail in the Great Trinity Forest. Ordained as an elder of Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho, he and his wife are now active members of Greenland Hills United Methodist Church.

Joseph W. McKnight
2015 Honorary Alumnus Award

Joseph W. McKnightJoseph W. “Joe” McKnight, Professor Emeritus of Law and Larry and Jane Harlan Faculty Fellow Emeritus at SMU Dedman School of Law, has made historic contributions to legal scholarship and law reform in Texas. 

Before joining the law faculty at SMU in 1955, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas before serving as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he received a B.A. degree, a B.C.L. degree, and an M.A. degree. Professor McKnight would later receive his LL.M. degree from Columbia University.

Prior to joining SMU, where he has taught Texas matrimonial property law, American legal history and creditors’ rights, McKnight practiced law at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York.

McKnight is a nationally recognized authority on legal history and family and marital property law. He and co-author, W.A. Reppy, Jr., have produced ten editions of their 1983 casebook, Texas Matrimonial Property Law, and McKnight was general editor and author of Creditor's Rights in Texas.

In 2007, McKnight published the 42nd in a series of annual surveys of Texas family property law. He has written extensively on the Spanish legal influence on American jurisprudence and is completing the forthcoming book, Legal Persistence and Change, on the law of succession on the Hispanic frontier of North America.

Additionally, McKnight directed the Texas Family Code project, helping achieve significant reform, and was the principal drafter of the Texas Matrimonial Property Act, recognizing property rights of married women. He also has been a major drafter of other important Texas statutes.

In 1991 McKnight was named the Larry and Jane Harlan Faculty Fellow and Professor of Law at SMU Dedman Law, where he served as associate dean from 1977 to 1980.

McKnight has held visiting academic appointments at the London School of Economics, the University of Edinburgh and several American universities. He founded the SMU Oxford Summer Law Program in 1983, and in 2014 was awarded the Doctor of Laws honoris causa degree from SMU.

McKnight has served on the board of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, as vice president and board member of the American Society for Legal History, and as a board member of the Executive Council of the Texas State Historical Association. He also has served on the advisory board of the Institute of Texan Cultures and is a trustee of the San Jacinto Museum of History Association. He is the founding member of The Texas Old Missions and Forts Restoration Association, a charitable and educational society founded in 1961 to promote the preservation and restoration of old Texas missions and fort sites.

During the past six decades, McKnight established and contributed to an invaluable collection of rare legal books at SMU Dedman Law. The collection is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, with the collection’s oldest book published in 1481.

About Dedman School of Law

SMU Law QuadThe School of Law at SMU was founded in 1925. It was named Dedman School of Law in 2001 in honor of Dallas benefactors Nancy and Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and their family. SMU Dedman Law enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction. It is among the most competitive law schools in the country for admission, as well as one of the most successful in the placement of its graduates.

The faculty is comprised of highly talented, distinguished scholars and teachers who are leaders in their fields and have outstanding academic and scholastic credentials. Dedman Law students are immersed in an intense professional legal curriculum with opportunities to obtain real-world experience through extensive legal clinics, public service placements, academic externships and clerkships.  

In U.S. News & World Report’s recent “Best Graduate Schools” report, SMU Dedman School of Law ranked 46th among 198 law schools fully accredited by the American Bar Association. In Texas, SMU is one of only two law schools in the first tier of “best schools of law” category.

Additionally, The National Law Journal ranked SMU Dedman Law 28th among all law schools for the highest percentage of the class of 2014 graduates employed in long-term jobs requiring bar passage.

Dedman Law graduates include CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Texas Supreme Court justices, federal court judges, members of Congress, ambassadors, foreign ministers and justices on the highest courts worldwide, as well as partners at leading law firms and general counsels at major corporations. Dedman Law graduates practice law in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and on all seven continents.

As SMU enters its second century of achievement, the Dedman School of Law continues to be dedicated to the ideals that shaped it from its founding: outstanding legal education, public service and professional responsibility.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.                           

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