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Thursday, July 11, 2013

2013 Valedictorian Among 10 Grads Heading for Judicial Clerkships

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2013 Valedictorian Chris Petroni hopes to land a clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court. He also wants to become a public defender.

UC Hastings has a distinguished record of placing graduates in prestigious clerkships. This year, 10 members of the class of 2013 have secured judicial clerkships, joining the ranks of scores of alumni who have chosen this path to advance their careers.

“At present, we have more than 40 graduates who are headed for clerkships or are currently clerking,” says Professor Rory Little, chair of the UC Hastings Clerkship Committee. “To have this many clerkships at one time puts us on par with the top law schools in the country. I could not be more proud of our students’ achievements.”

One student, Class of 2013 Valedictorian Christopher M. Petroni, has his sights set on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Soft-spoken by nature, Petroni was teaching high school science in a small rural high school (“I was the entire district science department”) in Prescott, WA, population 318, when he found his voice and talent for advocacy as a teachers union negotiator. He led his unit’s collective bargaining for two years, and ruffled feathers. “That’s when I realized I found the advocacy more interesting that teaching.”

But Petroni had no intentions to be a street lawyer. “I came into law school thinking I wanted to learn international law and be a diplomat. But my 1L summer, I worked at the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, and everything changed for me.”

Petroni was energized by the thrill of helping a lone individual stand up to the state, and felt something close to a spiritual calling to do so. “I enjoy helping people without a lot on their side. I like being the one who stands up to the might of the state. The idea that indigent defendants have a constitutionally mandated right to legal assistance means a tremendous amount to me.”

Several professionals were instrumental in igniting Petroni’s passion. “I had Professor Rory Little for criminal procedure. He doesn’t just focus on the law, he tries to inspire you to care about the ethical responsibilities.” Another mentor, Toni Young, director of UC Hastings’ Moot Court program, taught him to love thinking on his feet, and relish the parry of an argument.

Having found his niche, Petroni, who seems mild-mannered at first blush, flourished. Clerking, then, became a natural goal. “I wanted to see if I could do it, and see how far I could get with it,” he said.

“What stands out about Chris, aside from having one of the highest GPAs in UC Hastings history, is his surprisingly quiet modesty,” said Professor Little. “I’m sure no one, peers or faculty, knew of his achievements until he was announced as his class valedictorian for graduation.”

Petroni begins a clerkship with Judge Michael W. Mosman, of the U.S. District Court, District of Oregon, in Portland, August 26, 2013. He follows that by clerking for Judge Mary Murguia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Phoenix, Ariz., beginning in the fall of 2014.

Until then, Petroni will apply himself to the peculiar and unpredictable networking necessary to secure a Supreme Court clerkship. “Once I landed the 9th Circuit clerkship, I knew I wanted to try for the Supreme Court, if my fiancée’s patience stretches that far.”

SCOTUS clerks typically come from the highest-ranked schools, and many have clerked for so-called “feeder judges.” But some justices, such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, have shaken that hierarchy by hiring from nontraditional schools such as Brooklyn College.

Whether or not he makes it to the Supreme Court, expect to see Petroni, who wants to be a state or federal public defender, land in an urban environment. “There’s got to be some crime around,” he said, grinning.

Meanwhile, Petroni plans to be wed in August 2013, at Disney World, his bride Wendy’s “happiest place on earth.”

Class of 2013 Clerks*

Matthew Cate will clerk for Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, in New Orleans.

Catherine Davidson will clerk for Justice Joel H. Bolger of the Alaska Supreme Court, in Juneau.

Le Duong will clerk for the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch.

Alicia Jovais will clerk for Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Phoenix, Ariz.

Joshua Korr will clerk for Justice Paula A. Nakayama of the Hawaii Supreme Court, in Honolulu, for a two-year term.

Shannon Lankenau will clerk for Judge Larry R. Hicks of the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada, in Reno.

Christopher M. Petroni will clerk for Judge Michael W. Mosman, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon, in Portland. Petroni will follow up his 2013-14 clerkship by clerking for Judge Mary Murguia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Phoenix, Ariz.

Jacob Zweig will clerk for Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Jessica Winter will clerk for Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, in San Francisco, in 2014-15.

*One clerk requested her name be removed for safety reasons. 

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