District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield (JD ’91) named law school’s first Pro Bono Coordinator

Law students participating in the Pro Bono Project's Teen Drug Court pose with the Honorable Denise Hartsfield (JD '91)

Law students participating in the Pro Bono Project's Teen Drug Court pose with the Honorable Denise Hartsfield (JD '91)

Forsyth County District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield (JD ’91) is a native of Winston-Salem and considers herself a hometown girl.  She is familiar with outreach needs in the community and utilizes these programs and opportunities in her role as District Court judge. As a judge since 2002, Hartsfield must find alternatives to incarceration particularly in the juvenile arena. “Dispositional alternatives are essential in juvenile matters, and in criminal cases involving defendants younger than 18,” she says. “Part of my job is to be able to practice restorative justice instead of criminal justice.  It also allows me to see what people need to improve their lives.”

For nearly two decades, Judge Hartsfield has been working to help Wake Forest Law students succeed, most recently with Assistant Dean of Academic Engagement Tracey Banks Coan. She is an avid and active supporter of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and its annual scholarship banquet.

This fall, Judge Hartsfield became the law school’s first Pro Bono Coordinator working with Outreach Director Beth Hopkins. Her office is located in the newly appointed Smith Anderson Outreach Center, located on the second floor of the Worrell Professional Center.

“It’s only taken me 18 years to get an office,” Hartsfield says with a laugh. “I am really excited about connecting law students with people in this community who can use their help.”

In her new role, Judge Hartsfield has recruited local attorneys to supervise law students working in an expungement clinic at the new Samaritan Ministries that will screen homeless people and veterans to help clean up their criminal records, She also is working with area high schools to organize “Know Your Rights,” a panel discussion to engage and educate students about constitutional rights and local ordinances.

Professor Hopkins says, “It is our honor to have Judge Hartsfield on our team. She is the essence of what lawyers can do in their communities to make a difference in people’s lives. She has added vitality and expertise to our program. The students and I are thrilled to have her engage with us.”

Reclaiming Futures is a national initiative out of Portland, Oregon. Judge Hartsfield presides over a Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, another Pro Bono Project opportunity offered for law students to participate in.

“Community collaboration is essential in the pro bono arena,” Judge Hartsfield says. “Giving back to the community at large is at the heart of what lawyers do.”

Judge Hartsfield learned this lesson early in her legal career. After law school, she clerked for the late Richard C. Erwin, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

“Judge Erwin believed in community outreach and encouraged his law clerks to join organizations and to reach out to those in need,” she says.

Erwin instilled in Judge Hartsfield “to whom much is given, much is required.”  She says still lives and practices by this wisdom today.

Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD ‘77) adds, “Judge Hartsfield’s intimate knowledge of the courts and community needs has already involved our students in important new pro bono initiatives.”