Class of 2021: Daughter of Haitian Immigrant Headed to Prestigious Judge Clerkship

May 20, 2021 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

On Sunday, Catherine “Cat” Guerrier will earn her law degree at the University of Virginia as her mother, Louise, looks on, no doubt bursting with pride.

Louise Guerrier moved from Haiti to Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1980s to start her family and help her children pursue a good education, Guerrier said recently. There is no question she succeeded.

Guerrier’s older sister, Myriane, is a doctor. And after Cat Guerrier takes her historic walk from the Rotunda to Scott Stadium, she will earn her juris doctor degree and begin a prestigious two-year clerkship with Judge Stefan Underhill of the U.S. District in Connecticut, who also is a lecturer at the School of Law.

Guerrier is the first in her family to become a lawyer, and said her mother is exceedingly thrilled to see her graduate. “I think my mom is very, very excited and proud,” she said. “You know, she is a Haitian immigrant and I know this is a really important thing for her, coming here to ensure that she could provide the best opportunity for her kids. I think the work ethic she instilled in us at a very young age is definitely what brought me to UVA.”

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From Charlottesville to Bridgeport, With a Stop at a Federal Prison in Petersburg

Before courses were forced online because of the pandemic, Guerrier said she was lucky to take an in-person course her during second year of Law School with Underhill, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies from UVA in 1978.

“He teaches a course [on federal sentencing] in the fall,” she said. “I could just tell from the class that he was absolutely someone that I would love to have the opportunity to work for.”

So, what was the big appeal? Well, for one thing, Guerrier said “he’s brilliant.” The second thing that really stood out to her was the unique field trip he planned for the course, and the reason behind it.

Each year, Underhill takes his students to a federal prison; Guerrier’s group visited the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg. Underhill’s reasoning for the trip is that people studying to be prosecutors or defenders must understand where convicts are being sent. And as a judge, he told Guerrier and her classmates, it’s essential that he, too, can appreciate the federal jail system as he decides the fate of people in his courtroom.

His class spent about two hours at the Petersburg prison, talking with inmates and learning about their experiences and the resources available to them, such as access to legal reference materials.

“We had a chance to talk with a psychologist. We saw the computer room, the outdoor area. It was a very unique experience that I’m glad we had a chance to have,” Guerrier said.

“I just found that to be super important and it showed me a lot of his legal philosophy and how thoughtful he is in issuing opinions. That is definitely something that stuck out to me, and he is incredibly personable, too. I feel like I am absolutely going to learn a lot and I’ll be challenged. I’ll be pushed” during the clerkship.

Fond Memories, Half In-Person, Half-Virtual

Guerrier said it was “definitely unfortunate” that half of her three years at the School of Law were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, her biggest draw to the school – the quality of its professors – shone through, she said.

“When I look back on my time, I’ve always been very thankful for having the opportunity to learn and grow from some of the brightest legal minds in the country,” she said. “That is definitely an experience I don’t take lightly.”

Guerrier said she is also particularly grateful to have been a criminal justice reform research assistant for Thomas Frampton, an associate professor of law. “I mean, it was still over Zoom, but just being able to see how invested he is in me and wanting to make sure I’m having really interesting research opportunities … It’s definitely something that has been really unique to UVA, [having] professors who truly care about their students and are available to their students. That is definitely a fond memory.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications