Hi everyone! I have the pleasure of hosting a guest blog from Jovalin Dedaj, BC Law ’16. Jovalin and Cristina Manzano, BC Law ’16, recently argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
As a law student, I knew that my legal education would involve reading cases, outlining cases, and studying cases. I certainly did not know (nor did I expect) that as a BC law student, my legal education would also involve arguing a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
When Professor Kari Hong joined the BC faculty in 2012, she brought with her an extensive background in immigration law and appellate work. One of her first initiatives at the law school was setting up the Ninth Circuit Appellate Project (NCAP), a clinic devoted to representing indigent clients in the Ninth Circuit who face immigration consequences for various criminal convictions. I first heard about the clinic as a first-year law student and remember thinking to myself what an intimidating experience it would be to argue a case before a U.S. circuit court of appeals without even having graduated law school! Two years later, the feeling certainly returned the morning of our oral arguments.
Long before our oral arguments in April, however, the process first began in late August. Professor Hong, my partner, Cristina Manzano, and I sat down and went through the entire record, identifying any and all potential issues. My expectation was that our opening brief would take shape after one or two rounds of drafting and everything thereafter would be editing and polishing. I could not have been more wrong. By the time the filing deadline approached in October, we had worked on 37 versions of the opening draft. And, as if doing it once wasn’t challenging enough, we did it all over again with our response brief to the Government’s answer.
Then, we had to prepare for oral arguments starting in February. We had local practitioners, professors, and former NCAP members come in and serve as judges for our mock panels. The insight they provided and the suggestions they offered were invaluable. Ultimately, our goal was to get comfortable with standing before a panel of judges and having a conversation with them. But, nothing can be a substitute for “the real thing.”
The day before our oral arguments, we had a private tour of the James R. Browning Courthouse, the seat of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California. It is an imposing structure, adorned with rare Numidian marble and handcrafted ceramic-tile mosaics. The building was designed to reflect the power and prosperity of the federal government in the early twentieth century and even today, it still has the same awe-inspiring effects on those who walk its halls, including myself.
Of course, all the preparation in the world could not have prevented the nervousness and anxiety I felt before I opened my mouth and uttered the words, “May it please the Court.” However, we were prepared for any question and, after it was over, we were confident we had put forward our best effort. Yet, the best part of this experience was not writing the briefs, or touring the courthouse, or even arguing before the Court. Indeed, the best part was calling our client and reporting to him our cautious optimism after the argument. It was only bested by the feeling we all shared on May 11, 2016 when the Court issued a favorable decision in our case and our client had prevailed.
For more information on the Ninth Circuit Appellate Project (NCAP), see my colleague Sajid Shahriar’s blog post.