News Release


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April 19, 2012

Christine Morganti , (505) 797-6028

Students Win Big in Essay Contest

Albuquerque, N.M.—Three New Mexico high school students will go to college with a little extra money in their pockets and some legal writing experience for their resumes as winners in the James T. Sperling High School Essay Contest, offered by the State Bar of New Mexico and sponsored by the Modrall Sperling Roehl Harris & Sisk law firm since 1997. This year’s topic was The Search, which dealt with personal freedoms in the school environment where school policy allows random, unannounced searches of targeted areas of the school.

While in the past we have had two winners from the same school from time to time, this is the first time all three winners have come from the same school, Oñate High School in Las Cruces, and the same teacher. In addition, all the winners are juniors, beating out all submissions from seniors. This is quite an accomplishment for the teacher and his students.

Bryce Newcomer, 1st Place Winner of 2012 High School Essay Contest Bryce Newcomer, won the first-place prize of $1,000. Music has always been an important part of Newcomer’s life. Currently, he is the principal clarinetist in the Oñate Symphonic Winds and plays piano for the Oñate Jazz Band. Recently, he had the privilege of being a member of the prestigious 2012 Honor Band of America in Indianapolis, Indiana. Additionally, he is a member of the National Honor Society, team participant of the New Mexico-West Texas Chemistry Olympiad, and enjoys volunteering time to the local community. Newcomer plans to attend Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music to obtain either a degree in biochemistry or music performance.
Catherine Cook, 2nd Place 2012 High School Essay Winner The second-place prize of $750 went to Catherine Cook who, in her own words, is “a massive music nerd.” She is in the advanced choir and the jazz choir at Oñate, and until recently, the school show choir. She plays the piano and guitar, enjoys composing music, and plans to start an eight-person a cappella group this summer. Aside from music, she spends time writing short stories, reading, and learning about history. She also has a passion for painting. Cook hopes to study music or performance in college, attain a doctorate in music, and make her living writing choral music or musicals. She is also considering a teaching or writing career.

Jennifer Romero, 3rd Place 2012 High School Essay Contest Winner Jennifer Romero, who was born and raised in Las Cruces, picked up the third-place prize of $500. She is a member of the Royal Knight Regiment, the award-winning band program at Oñate High School. She works for Groundwork Dona Ana on weekends, where she helps restore nature trails for community use. She is currently enrolled in three Advanced Placement courses and plans to continue a rigorous schedule during her senior year. After graduation, she plans to attend New Mexico State University to pursue a degree in biology, along with emphasizing studies in English. Romero credits her outstanding teachers for helping to develop her writing skills. “I was raised to always work hard,” said Romero, “a philosophy I know can lead anyone to success.”


Teacher Joel Hutchinson wins a special $500 teacher prize. Hutchinson received his BS in education with English emphasis from NMSU, and a masters in secondary education from UNM. This year will complete his 15th year of teaching—five at Oñate, five at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, CO.; three at Rio Rancho High School; and two years at Pojoaque High School. He teaches all Advanced Placement Language classes at Oñate.

The winners will be recognized at the Albuquerque Bar Association’s annual Law Day Luncheon, May 1, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Albuquerque. The Hon. Jimmie V. Reyna, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, will be the keynote speaker. Judge Reyna was born and raised in New Mexico. He attended the University of Rochester (B.A., 1975) and the UNM School of Law (J.D., 1978).

Held annually as part of Law Day observances, the contest is open to all New Mexico high school juniors and seniors who are asked to author an essay in response to a scenario and questions from the State Bar Public Legal Education Commission. The essay topic and scenario was written by Ian Bezpalko, an attorney in Albuquerque. After all essays were scored by a panel of attorneys. The preliminary judging produced ten finalists, with the final top three selected by a panel of sitting judges. This year’s finalist judges were Judge Frank Sedillo, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court; Judge Freddie Romero, 5th Judicial District Court; and Judge Jane Shuler Gray, 5th Judicial District Court.

For over half a century, Americans have paused on May 1 of each year to reflect on the importance of being able to govern ourselves democratically under the rule of law. Law Day was declared to be a day of national dedication by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 during the height of the Cold War. Every year, the national legal community, under the leadership of the American Bar Association, has celebrated the contributions attorneys and judges make to the administration and preservation of justice in the United States. The State Bar of New Mexico is sponsoring events throughout the next several weeks in celebration of Law Day with the heart of the celebrations centering on attorney volunteers participating in call-in programs and referral events that provide free legal counseling to New Mexicans around the state.


The State Bar of New Mexico was organized in 1886 and is composed of more than 8500 members. Its purposes are to aid the courts in administering justice and preserving the rule of law, and to foster a high standard of integrity and competence within the legal profession.