Barrow High School graduate passes Washington, D.C., bar exam
Atticus Finch, move over.
On Oct. 26, the North Slope Borough gained a new lawyer and eager advocate.
Born and raised in Barrow, Richard Camilleri passed his bar exam in the District of Columbia, but said he hopes to use his new credentials to maintain balance between the need for revenue and the need to protect the environment of the North Slope.
A graduate of Barrow High School and longtime North Slope Borough employee, Camilleri went to law school at Temple University. Although he works outside of Alaska now, his work is still deeply tied to Alaska and Barrow, and he plans to return home as soon as he can. His score on the DC bar exam qualifies him with the Alaska Bar Association if he files the proper paper work.
Camilleri said he is passionate about issues personal to Alaska, including oil and gas regulation and environmental law. We spoke with Camilleri about his achievement and his background in public service.
How did you become interested in the law?
I first considered getting a law degree as an undergraduate studying public policy at the Syracuse University Maxwell School. Their programs allowed me to study a variety of policy issues, including an internship with the local attorney bar association and another studying education policy in lower Manhattan. Once I graduated with my bachelors, I returned to Barrow and worked for the North Slope Borough for a little over eight years. My first job back was with our law department, but shortly after, I was appointed by the late Mayor Edward Itta to join his leadership team for his two terms, including additional time at the law department. I continued to work as a mayoral appointee for the subsequent administration for two years, before leaving to attend law school. Throughout my time with the borough, much of my work required me to work with attorneys, whether I was dealing with internal or external issues. Much of what happens on the North Slope is connected to state and federal programs and regulations, particularly as it relates to natural resource development and environmental protection. It didn't take me long to realize how much successful policy depends on the proper interpretation and application of the law. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work in a position of leadership alongside talented individuals willing to teach and mentor me along the way.
Why did you leave Alaska to go to college?
I originally left for my undergraduate program because I received a generous scholarship to attend Syracuse University in New York. I was excited about the opportunity to study policy and government, as their public affairs program has always been top-ranked. I was also eager to participate in their study-abroad program, which allowed me to connect to my late father's Italian roots. I had never been abroad, or even to the east coast, so I welcomed the challenges and experiences with open arms. Once I returned home to work for the borough, my professional experiences kept pointing me to law school. I wanted the skill-set of the attorneys with whom I worked, and to be able to apply them myself as a local, home-grown leader working for North Slope and Alaska interests. Since Alaska doesn't have a law school, going out of state was the only option. I focused my search in the Northeast, because I enjoyed my time as an undergraduate in New York. I had never been to Philadelphia and was drawn to Temple University because of its law and public policy program and its international programs. I was fortunate to again receive a generous scholarship, which sealed the deal. At Temple, I participated in the law school's summer program in Rome, which allowed me a 10-week internship with an Italian law firm. The internship was conducted almost entirely in Italian, so it was a great opportunity to advance my fluency. I was also an active Law and Public Policy Scholar and participated in the Washington, D.C., program. In addition to studying policy in D.C., I earned an internship with the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the tail end of the Obama administration. This experience was amazing, not only because of my respect and admiration for former President Obama, or even for the White House credentials, but it allowed me to work directly with the federal office that controls the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is ever-present in development issues back home.
How have you stayed connected to Barrow?
Well, I have only lived outside of Barrow while attending school. During undergrad I returned home every summer and winter break to work, almost exclusively in government. This includes with the city, borough, and state. My law school breaks were shorter since I studied and worked year round, allowing me to only come home once or twice a year for short visits. But there were also others ways for me to stay connected from a distance.
I made it a point to allow my research to be connected to Alaska as often as my coursework allowed. This included completed projects that examined various health care issues in rural Alaska and a comprehensive Arctic policy project in the context of climate change. In addition to staying connected with friends, family, and colleagues on a regular basis, I also participate in all elections that I can, local and state. I even volunteer my time to assist the campaigns of people seeking local office, helping with writing and advertisements. Doing all of this is important to me in order to keep me grounded and to remember where I came from.
How has growing up in Alaska informed your law practice?
My experiences back home have impacted my interests as an attorney immensely. That is pretty obvious when you consider my interests in natural resource, oil and gas, and environmental law. As an Alaskan working in government, it is pretty easy to see the important connections being oil and gas development, the environment, and sustainable communities. This is more evident coming from the North Slope. Our borough, just as is the state, is highly dependent on tax revenue from industry. However, our people are also highly dependent on the land and waters, particularly where native cultures are concerned. My experiences have taught me that successful policy must be fully informed by the needs of the stakeholders and players, while maintaining a proper balance to bring in revenue while adequately protecting our environment. If the balance becomes skewed, then we will have problems. As an attorney, it is my desire to help navigate policy to maintain this balance in a manner that allows our state and communities to thrive. It is my immediate hope that I am able to sharpen these skills to the best of my ability before I come back home to continue the fight.