Drake University Law School is proud to announce this year’s alumni award honorees. Hon. Romonda D. Belcher, LW’95, is Alumna of the Year; Nawi Ukabiala, LW’11, is Recent Alumnus of the Year; and Dr. Deborah Turner, LW’07, will be recognized posthumously with the Alumni Distinguished Public Service Award. We will honor award winners at the 87th annual Supreme Court Celebration Banquet on Saturday, April 6, 2024. Visit the Supreme Court Celebration events page for event and registration information.

Each year, alumni, faculty, and staff are invited to nominate individuals for alumni awards. Law School Board of Counselors and Recent Alumni Engagement Board members consider all nominations and vote to determine who will receive the annual honors.

Alumna of the Year

The Alumna of the Year award recognizes Drake Law School alumni who have demonstrated outstanding service to the legal profession, the community, and the Law School.

Judge Romonda Belcher

Romonda D. Belcher was appointed as a district associate judge in Iowa’s Fifth Judicial District in 2010, becoming the first, and remaining the only, African American female judge in the state of Iowa.

Judge Belcher, a native of North Carolina, earned her bachelor’s degree with honors from Howard University in 1990, and her juris doctor degree from Drake University Law School in 1995. She began her legal career as an assistant Polk County attorney, a role she served for 15 years prior to her appointment to the bench.

Judge Belcher has presided with distinction over criminal cases, civil appeals and currently, over juvenile dependency and delinquency matters. She also presides over Polk County’s therapeutic, peer-based Family Treatment Court, designed to assist parents with services toward maintaining sobriety, achieving self-sufficiency, and being safely reunified with their children.

Judge Belcher is an adjunct professor at Drake Law School. She served as a project coordinator for the Iowa National Bar Association’s “A Monumental Journey” public art project dedicated to the founders of the National Bar Association by world renowned artist Kerry James Marshall. She regularly serves on committees to address racial disparities in the juvenile and criminal justice systems; conducts training on being trauma informed to help the judiciary and other disciplines reduce revictimization of those experiencing trauma; and serves as a mentor to law students and youth.

Judge Belcher has received numerous honors and recognitions for her commitment to service and her outstanding career. Most recently, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2023 and was named a “Community Hero” by Prevent Child Abuse Iowa in 2022. She was recognized as a 2020 Woman of Influence by the Business Record. Her trailblazing accomplishments have been recognized on the floor of the 116th United States Congress.

Recent Alumnus of the Year

The Recent Alumnus of the Year award recognizes Drake Law School alumni who have graduated in the past 15 years, have seen a high level of professional success early in their careers, and have made an impact on the community through public service.

Nawi Ukabiala

Nawi Ukabiala, LW’11, is an associate attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, where he is a member of the International Dispute Resolution Group and Public International Law Group. His practice focuses on international arbitration and litigation. Nawi has significant experience in the extractive industries and energy sectors, as well as human rights disputes. He regularly advises clients on complex issues related to jurisdiction and valuation of damages.  He has been recognized as a leader in the field of international arbitration by Legal 500 and as a Rising Star by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.

Nawi previously served as the legal officer to Judge Julia Sebutinde at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and judicial law clerk to Justice Edward Mansfield at the Iowa Supreme Court. He also worked as a legal consultant in the Operations Policy Group of the World Bank’s legal department. Nawi obtained his LL.M. from NYU in 2014, where he was a transitional justice scholar and international finance and development fellow, and his J.D. from Drake University in 2011 summa cum laude and Order of the Coif.

Nawi serves as a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), a member of the Board of Directors of the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA), a member of the CPR Young Attorneys in International Dispute Resolution Steering Committee (CPR Y-ADR) and Arbitration Committee, and a member of the African Arbitration Association (AfAA).

Nawi has made significant contributions towards public service, working as lead associate on the Debevoise team for the International Bar Association’s inquiry into crimes against humanity in detention centers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Additionally, as a member of the Debevoise team, Nawi prepared an amicus brief for Henry v. Jamaica, where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights deemed Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws as violating human rights. Nawi’s dedication to international pro bono work has earned him recognition with several awards for excellence. Additionally, Nawi has actively promoted the use of international dispute settlement to drive racial justice reform in the United States. His involvement as a member of the Visualizing Justice Project underscores his efforts, as he worked to produce a series of videos that utilize data visualization to illuminate the social, political, and historical dimensions of racial justice issues.

Alumni Distinguished Public Service Award

The Distinguished Public Service Award recognizes Drake Law School alumni who have engaged in exemplary service to the community and demonstrated commitment to public service over the course of their careers.

Dr. Deborah Turner

Dr. Deborah Turner, LW’07, served as the 20th president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and chair of the Board of Trustees of the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

She joined the Des Moines Metropolitan League in 2010 and became president in 2011 when the League was at risk of disbanding. She also served on the League of Women Voters (LWV) Iowa board as the state vice president from 2011 to 2015, becoming co-president in 2015. In her dual roles with state and local Leagues, Dr. Turner provided leadership to strengthen relationships between local leagues and the state Board.  

Dr. Turner was elected to the League’s national board of directors in 2016, where she served on the Finance Committee, Governance Committee, and chaired the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. As chair of the DEI Committee, she and her colleagues focused on organizational culture changes to the League’s mission work, emphasizing not only racial equity but also intergenerational dynamics, socioeconomic differences, gender identity, and interpersonal engagement.  

Dr. Turner received her BS from Iowa State University and her MD from the University of Iowa where she completed her Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She completed her fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Institute in Houston, Texas. She practiced gynecologic oncology for 35 years, enhancing university programs and serving the private sector. She received her JD from Drake University in 2007.

In July 2015, she left active practice to become Vice President of International Medical Programs of The Outreach Program. She participated in twelve medical missions to Tanzania between 2011 and 2016 and worked with Singida’s Medical Center, Outreach’s Children’s Feeding Centers, and Rotary International. She also served as Associate Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of North Central States from 2016 to 2022.

Dr. Turner leaves behind a legacy of achievements that will continue to inspire future generations, such as being honored by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, being inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, and accepting the Louise Noun Visionary Women of the year award from Young Women’s Resource Center Des Moines, the Vanguard Award from the NAACP, and the Gertrude Rush Award from the National Bar Association.

Sadly, Dr. Turner passed away on January 28, 2024. She had been scheduled to be the keynote speaker for Drake Law School’s Supreme Court Day banquet. Her family will accept her award in her memory.