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2024 Award Winners & Judicial Reception

Inaugural Judicial Reception and Awards Ceremony Honors Chapter Award Winners, Judiciary

Attendees at San Diego FBA's Judicial Reception & Awards Ceremony enjoyed good food and conversation with colleagues in the law before celebrating the 2024 Chapter award winners.

On May 15, 2024, the San Diego FBA held the Inaugural Judicial Reception & Awards Ceremony atop the Carté Hotel. More than 100 attendees enjoyed sunset views, fine food and beverage, engaging conversations with colleagues, and celebrating the incredible contributions of awardees. Attending members of the FBA San Diego community included federal and state judges, retired jurists, neutrals, criminal and civil attorneys at all career stages, and law students.

Announcing the 2024 Chapter Award Winners
Announcing the 2024 Chapter Award Winners

For 2024, the San Diego FBA selected the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel as the recipient of the Judicial Service Award, Janet Cabral as the recipient of the Outstanding Advocate Award, Zandra Luz Lopez as the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, and Katie Hurrelbrink as the recipient of the Rising Attorney Award. More details about the esteemed honorees are provided below.

Judicial Service Award: The Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel

The Judicial Service Award recognizes an exemplary federal jurist who has provided outstanding service to the bench, the Federal Bar Association, and the federal community at large while promoting professionalism and civility. The recipient of the Judicial Service Award is further committed to improving access to the federal courts and upholding the rule of law.

Gonzalo P. Curiel is a Senior U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of California. He was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2011 and received his commission as a United States District Judge on October 1, 2012.


Before serving on the federal bench, Judge Curiel was a San Diego Superior Court judge for six years. He was an assistant United States attorney in San Diego from 1989 to 2002 and in Los Angeles from 2002 until his appointment to the state bench 2006. In San Diego, as deputy chief of the Narcotics Enforcement Section and coordinator of the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO) Task Force, he oversaw the investigation, prosecution, and extradition of the leaders of the Tijuana Cartel in Mexico. He was elevated to chief of the Narcotics Enforcement Section in 1999 and was awarded the Department of Justice Director’s Award for his work with the AFO Task Force and successful efforts in the first extradition of a Mexican drug trafficker.  


Judge Curiel hails from East Chicago, Indiana, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University in 1976 and his Juris Doctor from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 1979. 


In 2016, Judge Curiel attended the national conference for the Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization (JTB) whose purpose is to encourage and foster careers in the law among underrepresented groups. Inspired by JTB’s mission, purpose, and work, Judge Curiel spearheaded the effort to create the San Diego JTB Summer Legal Institute Program. The Summer Legal Institute Program is a week-long tuition-free legal program exposing underserved high school students to a career in the legal profession. 

To make the Summer Legal Institute a reality, Judge Curiel organized a steering committee made up of fellow judges, local attorneys, professionals, and educators who shared a passion to support the underserved high school community. Judge Curiel partnered with the University of San Diego Law School to provide instructors and a facility to host the week-long program and the National Conflict Resolution Center to provide instructors and resources for the curriculum which focuses on mediation and negotiations.


The first week-long Summer Legal Institute was launched in 2019 at the University of San Diego Law School with 40 high school students. In 2020 and 2021, due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was offered virtually through ConnectEd. Then, in June 2022, the program returned in person, and 48 students participated. This year, more than 100 applicants applied, and 65 students were selected to attend.


Judge Curiel continues as a steering committee member and assists with community recruitment and logistical coordination efforts. Judge Curiel’s vision, dedication, and hard work have exposed students from underserved communities to role models in the legal profession and allowed them to envision themselves in a legal career. With each passing year, there is greater hope for positive outcomes for students participating in the program.


Judge Curiel is also on the Judicial Advisory Committee with JTB. He is also the chair of the Board of Visitors for the Indiana University Maurer School of Law and was admitted to the Academy of Indiana University Law Alumni Fellows in 2016. He has received numerous awards, including the Harold V. Froelich Award for Judicial Courage from the American Judges Association (2017), the Benjamin Aranda III Judge of the Year Award from the Mexican American Bar Association (2017), and the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (2017). He has been a member of the American Law Institute since 2019 and serves as an Adviser on its Restatement of the Law, Constitutional Torts project. He has also served as a Master with the Enright Inn of Court since 2007.

The San Diego FBA is pleased to recognize Judge Curiel with the 2024 Judicial Service Award.

Outstanding Advocate Award: Janet Cabral

The Outstanding Advocate Award recognizes an attorney in any practice area, public or private, who has demonstrated outstanding advocacy and legal expertise while maintaining professionalism and civility over the course of their career. Eligibility for the award is based on the attorney’s legal work and contributions to the legal profession or the justice system.


Janet has had a versatile career of public service. She currently serves as an assistant United States attorney in the Civil Division, after many years of service in the Criminal Division. Before that, she was a career law clerk in the District Court for the Southern District of California.


As a criminal AUSA, Janet tried more than 15 cases and argued several appeals in a wide variety of subject areas. Since joining the Civil Division of the United States attorney’s office in 2020, Janet has advocated on behalf of the United States with professionalism, sophistication, and effectiveness. In March 2023, just three months before trial began, Janet stepped up as lead counsel defending against a complex medical-malpractice birth injury case. Janet led her team through a challenging 10-day bench trial that featured testimony from 17 physicians. Janet demonstrated top-notch advocacy throughout the trial. She delivered a persuasive opening statement and closing argument and navigated highly technical direct and cross examinations of expert witnesses, including obstetricians, neurologists, neuropsychologists, neonatologists, and neuroradiologists. As a result of Janet and her team’s advocacy, the court ruled in the United States’ favor.


Janet has devoted significant time helping to increase the levels of professionalism and competency among San Diego’s federal practitioners. Janet currently serves as an ethics advisor at the United States attorney’s office and as an instructor for the Department of Justice’s nationwide civil trial skills training program. Janet has previously served on the board of the San Diego FBA, and as the co-chair of the Lawyer Representatives. She also routinely volunteers to mentor more junior attorneys in her office.


The San Diego FBA is pleased to recognize Janet with the 2024 Outstanding Advocate Award.

Distinguished Service Award: Zandra Luz Lopez

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes distinguished service to the San Diego and Imperial County communities by an attorney, law firm, or organization. The award recognizes service to the legal profession, service to the local community, and service advancing education, equality, diversity, inclusion, and access to justice.


Zandra currently serves as an appellate attorney at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., where she has worked for nearly 18 years. She has also served on the Criminal Justice Act panel for the Southern and Central Districts of California, and as a panel member for Appellate Defenders, Inc. She has also worked on complex civil litigation and criminal defense matters at McKenna, Long & Aldridge LLP.


At Federal Defenders of San Diego, Zandra advances access to justice and promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion by serving as the chair of the Community Outreach Education Committee, and as a member of the All-Attorney Training, Criminal Justice Act Training, and Attorneys of Color committees. Zandra dedicates her time and efforts to bolster pipelines into the legal community, regularly engaging with organizations that aim to encourage and empower students of color and those from underrepresented communities to pursue careers in law, including The Appellate Project.


Zandra actively contributes to the San Diego legal community. She serves as a Lawyer Representative for the Southern District of California, as a member of the San Diego FBA Education and Court Engagement Committee, and on the board of directors for Appellate Defenders. Zandra is also a member of the Lawyers Club of San Diego, the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, the Criminal Defense Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association. Her contributions to securing compassionate release for numerous clients were recently recognized by the San Diego Criminal Defense Bar Association, who awarded her 2023 Federal Defender of the Year.


Zandra, a native San Diegan, also remains active in serving her community, something she has done since high school, when she would travel to Tijuana to visit juvenile detainees and volunteer during Catholic mass held in the local jail. She has served as a mentor and mock trial coach for students at her high school alma mater, Academy of Our Lady of Peace. She also has served as a mentor for Crawford High School students and as a judge for the USD Moot Court National Competition.


The San Diego FBA is pleased to recognize Zandra and her wide-ranging and dedicated service to her community with the 2024 Distinguished Service Award.

Rising Attorney Award: Katie Hurrelbrink

The Rising Attorney Award recognizes an outstanding attorney in any practice area, public or private, who has been admitted to the bar for no more than seven years at the time of nomination. Eligibility for the award is based on the attorney’s excellent advocacy and commitment to the legal profession through education, mentoring, or service to the community. The recipient must have served as counsel of record in at least one case before the Southern District of California’s U.S. District Court or U.S. Bankruptcy Court.


Katie currently serves as an appellate attorney at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., where she joined in 2019. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, she clerked on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and then on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.


Since joining Federal Defenders, Katie has worked on habeas petitions, appeals, compassionate release motions, and district court pre-trial litigation. In her first year, she was the primary author of an amicus brief addressing the interplay of the Speedy Trial Act and the COVID-19 pandemic. Katie has also demonstrated hard work and skill in her compassionate release work, including in one case where she successfully argued for the release of her terminally ill client. Currently, Katie is the lead attorney in her office on firearm litigation following New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, and she has co-authored amicus briefs in both the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit on the topic.


In addition to her work on her own cases, Katie serves as a member of her office’s all-attorney and new-attorney training committees and served on the bargaining committee for the union representing attorneys in her office. She has given presentations at the annual CJA seminar, as well as at trainings in the Southern District of Illinois and Eastern District of Missouri. She is the co-author of chapters on motions practice and federal sentencing in the 2023 Edition of Defending a Federal Criminal Case, a practice guide prepared by Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.


The San Diego FBA is pleased to recognize Katie and her accomplished work with the 2024 Rising Attorney Award.

From left to right, San Diego FBA Board President Blake Currey, Distinguished Service Awardee Zandra Luz Lopez, Outstanding Advocate Awardee Janet Cabral, and Judicial Service Awardee Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.

The San Diego FBA thanks all those who joined the celebration, and particularly extends its gratitude to Vice President of Court Engagement Jenn French and the committee members who organized and promoted the event, President Blake Currey, Vice President of Public Relations Kelly Reis, and Vice President of Professional Engagement Evangeline Dech.

Thank you to Eric Chiang, Jennifer Arnold, and Amy Silva for contributing to this article.


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