UH law professor and associate dean Denise Antolini, received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Surfrider Foundation’s O‘ahu Chapter, recognizing her work at the William S. Richardson School of Law and her work in the community to preserve the environment.
The award goes to someone who has made the greatest contributions toward protecting or enhancing the island’s coastal community and environment, according to the Surfrider Foundation website. The award recognizes Antolini’s many years teaching at the law school, in particular building the Environmental Law Program into one of national prominence. It also recognizes her role in helping to launch and support the almost 200 graduates of UH Mānoa’s environmental law program and their contributions to the community.
“It comes from an organization and people whom I greatly admire and respect; it reaffirms my lifelong commitment to empowering people and communities to protect the environment using legal system,” Antolini said.
Rosie Brady, one of Antolini’s former students, nominated her for the award. Antolini successfully helped build coalitions dedicated to environmental issues and strengthening environmental protection laws.
Antolini said about 15 law students were honored and recognized at the event for their contributions.
Antolini said she was surprised and humbled when she found out she was the recipient of this award.
“When my student told me I got the award, I started to cry,” Antolini said.
John Mezur, chair of the Surfrider Foundation O‘ahu and a former student of Antolini, helped set up the event. He said there were several great nominees, but in the end the committee felt she was the right candidate for this award.
Antolini has been part of the Law School faculty since 1996 and has served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs since 2011. Her courses include torts, environmental law, environmental litigation, domestic ocean and coastal law, and legal writing.
“She stands out above everyone,” Mazur said. He said she is a great professor because she does not just teach her students environmental law; she inspires students to preserve the environment in which they live in.
THE JOHN KELLY ENVIRONMENTAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization devoted to the protection of oceans, beaches and waves. The award, called the John Kelly Environmental Achievement Award, is comprised of multiple awards that include the Lifetime Achievement Award, Hawaiʻi-Based Company and Professional Surfer. John Kelly invented the hydroplane surfboard and founded a grassroots environmental group responsible for saving 140 surf sites on O‘ahu.
“This particular John Kelly award is very special to me personally because it is honoring one of Hawai‘i’s environmental law heros, the great surfer and activist John Kelly, who protected so many of Hawai‘i’s surf sites from the threats of coastal development, using grassroots activism and the legal process,” Antolini said. She worked with Kelly in 1990 on Clean Water Act litigation to protect O‘ahu’s coastal waters.
The award ceremony took place in Waimea Valley on Nov. 16, and almost 300 people gave Antolini a standing ovation.
“(The event was) fabulous, wonderful and exciting,” Antolini said. “It was one terrific party.”
Antolini said she will continue to protect the environment. Her current project is helping to reforest an acre of land in Pūpūkea with all native species, such as Koa, that are from the Ko‘olau Mountains, as a demonstration to her neighbors that they can grow Hawai‘iʻs native forests, right in their backyards.
Antolini’s lifelong passion for helping communities, particularly the North Shore community where she lives, is to protect their land, water, native species, forests and dark skies from overdevelopment is unwavering. She will continue to serve as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Law School.
“My heart and soul are in contributing to the Environmental Law Program and to nonprofits that I helped form on the North Shore that focus on local marine and land trust issues, such as Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea and North Shore Community Land Trust,” Antolini said.
Antolini hopes winning this award will bring recognition to the Law Schoolʻs Environmental Program, which is celebrating its 25th year and now graduates about 15 students each year with a concentration in Environmental Law.
“I really hope it attracts more prospective students to apply to Richardson and join the Environmental Law Program,” Antolini said about the award.
Antolini was a litigator for a national nonprofit environmental law firm in Hawai‘i for several years before becoming a teacher at UH Mānoa. In that role, she worked on many major lawsuits involving clean coastal waters, including Surfrider, which she believes helped raise awareness of ocean protection in Hawai‘i, and achieved clean water for communities.