APALSA hosts annual Trailblazers reception


Harold Koh, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor gave the keynote address at the Trailblazers event. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2013, the Georgetown University Law Center branch of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association hosted “Trailblazers: Charting Your Own Paths.” The event consisted of a panel of prominent Asian professionals working in the legal and policy-making fields, followed by a networking dinner event.

The panel featured four professionals who pursued a variety of career paths after completing law school and was moderated by Jeff Liu, the current president of APALSA. The panelists spoke about how their culture and identity as Asian-Americans impacted their decision to enter the legal field and their career decisions within it.

The keynote address was delivered by Harold Hongju Koh, a Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School and one of the foremost authorities of public and private international law, national security law, and human rights. He worked as the US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor between 1998-2001 and the Dean of Yale Law School between 2004-2009.

Koh gave a short keynote speech filled with stories about his childhood, immigration to the United States from Korea, and how and why he began his legal career, often eliciting laughs from the audience.

Along with Koh, there were three other panelists. Karen K. Narasaki, the head of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), one of the most prominent civil rights advocacy organization in the country. She was vice-chairwoman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and chair of the Rights Working Group, an organization dedicated to arresting the erosion of liberties since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Representing an alternative career choice was David Lat, founder and current managing editor of Above the Law. During his portion of the panel, Lat claims that he was unsure of what his end goal was when he began law school and after graduation, followed the traditional path of working at a large firm. He started a blog called underneaththeirrobes.blogs.com, as a humorous blog dedicated to the lives of federal judges outside the courtroom. He discovered a love of writing and blogging through this and left the firm to start blogging fulltime.

Besides answering broader questions about career choices and advice for current law students, more specific questions about the status of the legal market were directed at Lat, who responded with a positive note and reassured the students in the room that legal hiring was improving.

Judge Maribeth Raffinan, an Associate Judge for the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, who was nominated by President Barack Obama on July 28, 2010, was also present. Previously, she worked as a staff attorney for the Public Defenders Service for the District of Columbia for 11 years before her confirmation as judge.

The evening ended with a dinner where about a dozen practitioners working in the D.C. area were invited to share a meal and engage in conversation with current students. “It was great to hear from Asian American leaders in the field of law. I think it’s important to share in success and struggles, “ said Hannah Kim, 1L, who attended the event.  “It was a great event, and I hope to attend more like it in the future.”

With contributions by Jeff Liu, 2L

Africa Week promotes human rights on campus

The Africa Committee, a sub-section of Georgetown University Law Center’s Human Rights Action-Amnesty International student organization, hosted “Spring to Action” the week of March 18, 2013. The program, also known as Africa Week, consisted of a variety of and panels throughout the week

The week kicked off with an educational campaign and petition aimed at stopping land grabs in Cameroon.  The Cameroonian government is granting a 99-year land lease to an American company, allowing it to develop an industrial palm oil plantation.  The Africa Committee worked to raise awareness about both the environmental impact of deforestation and the detrimental effect that the oil palm plantation could have on the local populations who live and practice substance farming on the land.  The petition is being conducted in partnership with Greenpeace.

On March 20, Matt Wells, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, led a discussion on war crimes in Côte d’Ivoire and problematic labor practices in Zambia. Wells analyzed the 2010 elections in Côte d’Ivoire and the armed conflict that followed. Though both sides of the conflict committed atrocities, thus far the government of Côte d’Ivoire and the International Criminal Court have only charged people affiliated with the former government. The discussion that followed focused on appropriate forms of prosecution and reconciliation. The central themes of justice and peace were both emphasized in creating a solution, as was the need for both sides of an armed conflict to be held accountable. This is to mitigate the concern that only one side of the conflict is held accountable and punished for the violence resulting from their crimes.

The second portion of the discussion focused on Chinese-owned copper mines in Zambia. Wells described the impact of China’s increasing presence in the area and voiced his concerns over the discussion being overly one-sided either for or against China’s presence. At the copper mine in question, the Chinese company was the only party willing to reopen the mine, which provided jobs for thousands of Cameroonians, because of low profit margins.  The company made employees work longer hours for less pay in unsafe conditions, but work done by Human Rights Watch improved the situation. The company’s standards are not yet meeting all labor standards, but Wells claimed that the progress is promising.  The cooperation of the Zambian government contributed to the improvement of conditions as well.

On March 213, the Africa Committee held a screening of “Sisters in Law”. The film follows the struggle of two Cameroonian women seeking justice for female victims of physical and sexual abuse through the nation’s court system. The cases covered a variety of issues including kidnapping and custody issues, domestic violence that led to a successful bid for divorce, child abuse, and the rape of a young girl. The two women successfully dealt with strong cultural pressure against their clients and were ultimately able to protect their clients’ rights. One of the primary difficulties they faced was the marginalization of women.  Their clients found it difficult to speak out on issues that were contrary to social norms and gender roles. The film demonstrated the importance of international human rights and the role of lawyers in upholding them.

by Hayley Webster, 1L

1Ls win Greenhalgh Mock Trial Tournament

Photos by Brad Kehr, 2L. Contestants Tuminelli, on left, and Guptil, on right, debate motions in limine.First-year students Amanda Tuminelli and Neal Shechter have won the 2011 Greenhalgh Mock Trial Tournament. The annual competition, an intramural qualifying tournament for students who wish to join the Trial Advocacy Division of Barristers’ Council, began three weeks ago with nearly two hundred contestants and culminated in a Feb. 17 championship round with four remaining contenders.

Tuminelli and Shechter argued the defense side of the case, which was held in the Supreme Court Institute Moot Courtroom and judged by four practicing attorneys. The runners-up were Ryan Guptill and Elizabeth Strickland.

The case centered around the fictional Robert Duffey, a convenience store employee accused of murdering his co-workers and stealing $6,000 from a locked safe. Prosecutors Guptil and Strickland argued that Duffey, “desperate” to pay his overdue rent and avoid eviction, was guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery.

Defense attorneys Tuminelli and Shechter countered that the prosecution’s case suffered from unanswered questions giving rise to reasonable doubt.

After a three-hour trial, the competition directors tabulated the judges’ ballots while the five-member jury announced a unanimous not guilty verdict. Greenhalgh Director Mike Kawi, 2L, then announced that the judges had also chosen Tuminelli and Shechter as competition victors.

The round was judged by DC Supeior Court Judge Michael Ryan, Paul Weiss partner and former federal prosecutor Beth Wilkinson, DC Law Students in Court attorney Dorene Haney, and Amy Jaquette, an Assistant U.S. Attorney and coach for Georgetown Law’s Trial Advocacy Division. Three of the four final round judges.

In post-trial comments, the judges praised all the contestants. Judge Ryan, the presiding judge, expressed surprise that the students were only one year into law school and said, “You were all hitting them over the park while many [real-life attorneys] I see bunt.”

Director Kawi agreed with the judges, commenting to the Law Weekly, “I was particularly impressed by the competitors’ ability to adapt and improve both within and in between rounds. There are many good advocates in Trial Advocacy programs around the country, but what makes a great advocate is the ability to remain composed and effective when the situation changes from what they expected.”

He added, “In a mock trial, as competitors move from round to round, the judges and witnesses change; this means that rulings on evidence, witness language, and opposing counsels theories and themes were constantly changing.  This is how we simulate the unpredictability of actual trials.  Judges who came back to judge multiple rounds all noticed that teams who they critiqued earlier had taken their advice and improved even in the short time between rounds.”

However, some judges did offer criticism, particularly of the examinations. Multiple judges said that cross-examining attorneys made the mistake of asking one too many questions, thereby allowing witnesses to wiggle out of incriminating or contradictory testimony.

Wilkinson also joked about the case packet, saying that the prosecution faced an almost insurmountable battle because of the available evidence, or lackthereof. Wilkinson joked that she would have never given the prosecution a conviction—despite working as a federal prosecutor for years.

Greenhalgh Director Mike KawiStill, the judges were overwhelmingly positive about the contestants. Wilkinson commended the defense, saying they were “thematically consistent and clear.”

“It is amazing how skilled you were,” Wilkinson said of all the contestants, adding that they were “far ahead of very senior people” she had seen. “It was very, very impressive. I hope you don’t lose the skills you have.”

Guptill, attorney for the prosecution, commended his opponents and teammates. “I was deeply impressed by the depth of talent we saw throughout the Greenhalgh competition. From what I saw, the Trial Advocacy Division is in for a influx of highly skilled and powerfully talented advocates. Amanda and Neal, our opponents in the final round, had absolutely superb trial advocacy technique from opening statements all the way through to closing arguments.”

Guptill added, “I am also in awe of my partner, Elizabeth Strickland, who, despite having no previous trial advocacy experience, put on an awesome performance, displaying a natural talent for advocacy and a keen insight in to what makes an effective trial presentation.”

Tuminelli, competition winner and attorney for the defense, said, “Since Greenhalgh gave us the opportunity to argue in a courtroom, for me it affirmed that I want to be a litigator. I know the general consensus among the competitors was that we all want to spend as much time in a courtroom as possible in the future. We were really grateful to be judged by the attorneys and judges that showed up to the final round because all of them have impressive backgrounds in advocacy and they all had helpful critiques for us.”

Her co-counsel, Shechter, said of the tournament, “I thought the competition was very well-run and well-organized and it was a lot of fun to participate in. However, it was a lot of work to do on top of the normal coursework and classes, so it is good to be finished.”

Kawi expressed satisfaction with the tournament and its results.

“This year’s competition was a complete success,” he said, adding, “The spring semester is busy for any law student, but is particularly grueling for 1Ls.  For the competitors to perform at such a high level with so many other responsibilities is truly impressive.” 

In total, 180 students registered for the competition and 24 of those students, including the Greenhalgh finals, have received invitiations to join the Trial Advocacy Division.

“The success of the competition bodes well for the Division’s success next year,” Kawi said. “If this is what our members can do in only a few days, with no coach and minimal training, then I feel sorry for anyone who finds out that they are up against Georgetown next year.”

All photos by Brad Kehr, 2L.