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Villanova Law Honors Attorney John Rafferty with Distinguished Alumni Award

John Rafferty received alumni award from Villanova University
Gawthrop Greenwood partner and litigator John Rafferty accepts the Public Interest Distinguished Service Award from Villanova University’s Public Interest Fellowship Program (PIFP) on Saturday, March 23, 2024.

Villanova University’s Public Interest Fellowship Program (PIFP) is honoring Gawthrop Greenwood partner and litigator John Rafferty with the Public Interest Distinguished Service Award, for his steadfast work to advance causes in the public interest. It was the inaugural year for the award, which was presented to Rafferty on Saturday before a record audience of 350 attendees at PIFP’s annual auction that raises funds for students who commit to public service legal work.

“This award is a testament to John’s exceptional contributions and dedication to the Walter A. Lucas Public Interest Program,” said Sarah Urie,  PIFP Board Member. “John’s steadfast commitment to advancing the cause of public interest throughout his career is commendable. From his significant work during his Fulbright Fellowship, addressing the complex issue of human trafficking, to his commendable receipt of the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, his impact has been substantial.”

Urie said, “John’s exemplary service truly exhibits the values of PIFP. His efforts have not only improved lives but have also catalyzed meaningful change on a significant scale. The board of PIFP takes great pride in honoring his outstanding achievements.”

PIFP is a student-run organization that financially supports students who are interested in public interest work, raising more than $1 million for students over the last 25 years.  Participants in the program have dedicated legal representation to the underserved for more than 130 organizations located across nineteen districts, fourteen states and five countries.

Honoree and attorney John Rafferty with Gawthrop partner Steve Olsen
Rafferty celebrates with Gawthrop Greenwood partner Stephen Olsen, who is Faculty Director of the Graduate Tax Program at Villanova University.

Rafferty’s public service work began in the U.S. Navy, where he served with distinction. As a naval officer in Bahrain, he volunteered as the Assistant General Secretary for the Migrant Workers Protection Society, and his work was recognized with accolades including the Navy Achievement Medal and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.

As a Public Interest Scholar at Villanova Law School, he and his partner in the law school’s Asylum Clinic represented a woman from Honduras who was imprisoned with her two children in York County, PA. By the end of Rafferty’s semester in the clinic, and after two days of trial, his client and her sons were released from prison and invited to start their new life in the U.S.

During Rafferty’s  Fulbright Fellowship, his ten months of field research shed light on the harrowing realities faced by victims of human trafficking in Ecuador.  At a Philadelphia non-profit law firm, Rafferty went on to fight tirelessly for immigration benefits for victims of labor trafficking. As an Assistant District Attorney in Chester County, Rafferty  was invited to join that office’s Child Abuse Unit, which enabled him to stand up for child victims of sexual and physical assault. Last fall, John’s pro bono practice brought him back to the courtroom for a survivor of trafficking, who successfully sought to regain her parental rights. Rafferty is also regularly called upon by judges in Chester County Orphans’ Court when an elderly citizen requires guardianship, but lacks the resources or cognitive ability to hire counsel to help them navigate that process.

Rafferty has spent six years on the board of advisors for Villanova Law School’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation. He is also chair of the board of directors of LCH Health and Community Services.

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