Robbie Pomeroy ’19 Rolls Up His Sleeves To Defend Others

Graduating Law Student To Join Still She Rises, Tulsa
Robbie Pomeroy

“It’s a mission,” Robbie Pomeroy ’19 says about pursuing a career in criminal defense. “This is what I’m supposed to do.”

April 24, 2019

Robbie Pomeroy will graduate May 19 from the University of Virginia School of Law with a fervor for helping the criminally accused and convicted.

“It’s a mission,” Pomeroy said. “This is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to work with folks to make sure they are represented.”

He said his upbringing in South Florida, to parents who weren’t always middle-class, made him a person who rolls up his sleeves when work needs to get done.

“My dad grew up poor in Detroit. My mom immigrated from Mexico,” he said. “They met, had me and my sister, and they worked hard [in the banking industry] to give us everything. I internalized their work ethic and what they wanted to give to us at a very young age. It manifests in a lot of ways. I was a very self-motivated student, and I worked hard in school. My family means a lot to me, and I am eternally grateful to them.”

Pomeroy finally gave his future profession a name — “defense attorney” — when he attended American Heritage, a private high school with a prelaw program. He attended on full scholarship.

“One of the biggest blessings was going to that high school. It was the place that solidified why I wanted to go to law school after college,” he said. “My coaches on the mock trial team and my teachers in the prelaw program just instilled in me this belief that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what your background, you deserve representation.”

In courtroom exercises, Pomeroy never sought to play the prosecutor or the plaintiff. He always wanted to defend.

He furthered his interest in the law with a degree in criminology from the University of Florida. It was during that time that he realized he was gay and began to learn about marginalized groups of people.

“I didn’t know I was gay in high school,” Pomeroy said. “I came out my sophomore year of college, and through that process of self-reflection, I had to start learning a lot about social identity and institutions of power in America. I learned about systems of oppression, and that lit a fire and a passion in me for social justice.”

By the time he got to UVA, while many of his classmates were just beginning to explore potential areas of practice, Pomeroy knew where he was headed — he just wasn’t sure how to get there.

But he received support from the Program in Law and Public Service, including from professors Josh Bowers and Anne Coughlin, and Maggie Birkel ’18, then a second-year student and mentor.

Pomeroy applied successfully for prestigious summer internships at the Bronx Defenders (where Bowers was previously a staff attorney) and the Orleans Public Defenders.

“In the Bronx, I had clients who were facing criminal charges and were in [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody,” he said. The situations were stressful, he added, because no matter what the outcome might be on the charges, “a family is losing a father.”

He was also a member of the Law School’s Criminal Defense Clinic, where he won an acquittal on behalf of a client facing assault-and-battery charges, and the UVA Law Innocence Project Clinic.

Earlier in law school, he volunteered at the Legal Aid Justice Center and with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.

A well-known student who enjoys interacting with his peers, Pomeroy has sought to get the full law school experience. He is the current student board president of the Program in Law and Public Service (with fellow third-year student Spencer Ryan) and was assistant managing editor of the Virginia Law Review. He was president of the Latin American Law Organization, served as both a Peer Advisor and a Virginia Law Ambassador, and has been active in Lambda Law Alliance, the Student Bar Association, First Year Council, the Libel Show, A Cappellate Opinions, the Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows Program and the Raven Society.

“I need a jam-packed schedule to make sure I’m being productive for the day,” he said. “I live by my calendar.”

Following in the footsteps of Birkel, Pomeroy will join the legal team of Still She Rises, Tulsa, after graduation. A project of the Bronx Defenders, the organization seeks to provide holistic representation to women in the criminal justice system. The history of racial oppression in Tulsa and its impact on generations informs its mission.

“I’m super-excited to go to work at that office,” he said. “It’s only two years old, and there is room for me to grow as an attorney and for the office to grow. I am passionate about this work because racial inequity and economic injustice are huge problems in this country, and public defenders help to solve those problems.”

Pomeroy said he rejects the idea that he is giving clients “a voice.” They already have a voice; he’s simply helping them navigate a complex situation in order to get their best outcome.

“They are human beings just like you and me; they’re just caught in this system.”

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