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News Posted on March 11, 2020

Professor Pruitt, Professor Emerita Johns, Rodrigo Guevara receive honors

Professor Lisa R. Pruitt is the recipient of UC Davis Law’s 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award. This award was made possible through the generosity of Bill and Sally Rutter.

A Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law and member of the American Law Institute and the California Commission on Access to Justice, Pruitt is an influential scholar whose recent work explores the legal relevance of rural socio-spatiality, including how it inflects dimensions of gender, race, and ethnicity. At King Hall, she has taught on the subjects of torts, law and rural livelihoods, feminist jurisprudence, critical race theory, and sociology of the legal profession.

Pruitt holds a J.D. from the University of Arkansas School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the law review, and a Ph.D. in Laws from the University of London, where she studied as a British Marshall Scholar. Pruitt clerked for the Honorable Morris Sheppard Arnold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Before joining the King Hall faculty in 1999, Pruitt worked abroad for almost a decade in settings ranging from international organizations to private practice. She worked with lawyers in more than 30 countries, negotiating cultural conflicts in several arenas. Her key role in the first successful prosecution of rape as a war crime -- while working as a gender consultant for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda -- is chronicled in the 2016 documentary film “The Uncondemned.”

Once Pruitt was granted tenure in 2004, she took the risky step of seeking to establish a new sub-discipline in legal scholarship — one that explored rural-urban difference in relation to how people engage law and the state. Her central premise was that law and legal scholarship had become metro-centric and that most lawyers and law professors, along with many judges, knew little about rural people and places and how they differed from what had become the implicit urban norm.

Pruitt’s work reveals, for example, how the economic, spatial, and social features of rural locales profoundly shape the lives of residents, including the junctures at which they encounter the law. The most recent thread of Pruitt’s scholarship explores critical whiteness studies as a strand of critical race theory. Among other projects, Pruitt challenges the conflation of rurality with whiteness, while also seeking a more nuanced understanding of rural and working-class whites, especially in the era of President Trump. This work has taken Pruitt back to the global orientation and conflict resolution tools she brought to King Hall more than two decades ago.

Leading media outlets including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and NPR have quoted Pruitt in recent years on a range of rural issues. Shortly after the 2016 election, she appeared on WBUR’s “On Point” to discuss working-class white support for Trump.  She has published op-eds on rural issues in the National Law Journal, Austin American-Statesman, and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

In 2018, Pruitt collaborated with five other scholars on the Harvard Law & Policy Review article “Legal Deserts: a Multi-State Perspective on Rural Access to Justice.” The article addresses the rural lawyer shortage and what its authors call “an increasingly dire access-to-justice crisis, which serves to exacerbate the already disproportionate share of social problems afflicting rural areas.”

Pruitt contributed to Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (West Virginia University Press), a 2019 anthology compiled in response to J.D. Vance’s best-selling 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy. In his New York Times review of Appalachian Reckoning, book critic Dwight Garner praised Pruitt’s essay, “What ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Reveals About Race in 21st Century America.”

UC Davis Law has honored Senior Lecturer Emerita Margaret Johns ’76 as its 2020 Distinguished Alumna Award recipient.

Johns taught at her alma mater from 1980 to 2018, directing the Legal Research and Writing program from 1984 to 2001. While at King Hall, she co-authored four books and published several law review articles. In 1993, Johns founded UC Davis Law’s Civil Rights Clinic.

Johns received UC Davis Law’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1991. She later received UC Davis’ Distinguished Public Service Award and the James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award, the latter honoring the breadth of her accomplishments at the university.

In 1992, Johns, Professor Ed Imwinkelried and then-Eastern District of California Judge David Levi established the  Schwartz/Levi Inn of Court, a gathering of lawyers, judges, law professors and students dedicated to addressing ethics, skills and professionalism in the legal field.

Rodrigo Guevara ’09 is the inaugural recipient of the 2020 King Hall Rising Star Alumnus Award, which honors exceptional alumni who have graduated from UC Davis Law within the past 15 years.  In 2015, Guevara founded Abogato, an organization that educated clients about their employment rights. That organization became Abogato LLP, a law firm that specializes in representing low-wage workers in underserved communities. He is a former president of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.