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Friday, September 14, 2012

UC Hastings and the California Bench: A Legacy of Leadership

A few years ago, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Erica Yew ’85 appeared on a judicial panel at a Bay Area law school. As speakers went down the row describing their backgrounds, it soon became clear that ever single judge on the panel had graduated from UC Hastings.

“We joked to those students, ‘It’s not too late to transfer.’”

The panel’s composition should have come as no surprise, given that historically, UC Hastings has sent more public servants to the California bench than any other law school. With so many alumni in the state judiciary, UC Hastings’ commitment to both public service and diversity profoundly influences the lives of California’s citizens.

According to Lila Mirrashidi ’09, who served as deputy appointments secretary under Gov. Jerry Brown, UC Hastings graduates “highly qualified attorneys who go on to do great things for California. The student body is incredibly diverse, producing a great pool of candidates from the bench, which ideally should reflect the diversity of the state.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Sharon Majors-Lewis, who served as judicial appointments secretary under Gov. Schwarzenegger, adds that UC Hastings enjoys “a well-deserved reputation for being one of the best law schools in the national because of its extraordinary teachers and scholars. Its diverse and accomplished alumni include many highly respected jurists and attorneys.” While Majors-Lewis notes that an applicant’s law school is not considered in the appointment process, she adds, “It’s not surprising to learn that UC Hastings’ wonderfully diverse alums make up a significant part of the California judiciary.”

For Yew, being a student at UC Hastings, which is a particularly large and competitive law school, meant that “you had to be a scrapper” to succeed. Not surprisingly, resourcefulness also happens to be an especially useful quality for judges, says Yew, who also serves on the Judicial Council and the Commission on Judicial Performance. “In trial, for example, you have to respond in real time to objections and questions.”

While a UC Hastings diploma certainly doesn’t guarantee a judgeship, “anecdotally, there is evidence” of a connection, notes Justice Nathan Mihara ’75 of the Sixth District Court of Appeal, who appeared alongside Yew on the panel. “To me, UC Hastings was the ideal setting for acquiring a great legal education. It’s uniquely situated in the heart of city, state, and federal government. Students don’t have to go too far to see a state criminal trial, watch a bankruptcy proceeding or observe a racketeering trial in federal court. Plus, all varieties of practice are nearby in the financial district. It’s a vibrant, exciting petri dish for the development of young law students.”

UC Hastings’ setting also exposes students to the human experience. “You have very wealthy, powerful international corporations, but just around the corner, there is extreme poverty, homeless in need of social services, and a large immigrant population. It was a real eye-opener,” Mihara says. “Exposure to all of those experiences enables a judge to handle a variety of situations, from self-represented people who can’t afford lawyers, to huge corporate lawsuits, to family law and juvenile cases. UC Hastings is a great launching pad for understanding those issues.”

Majors-Lewis similarly notes the school’s relative proximity to Sacramento, “a seat of power,” where the government and other political power players are. She speculates that being the UC system’s first law school, UC Hastings has a distinguished “history and legacy” for sending its graduates to the bench.

For Mihara, the old adage “a campus is comprised of buildings, but a school is about the people,” he says, “is very true of UC Hastings. My interpersonal connections were strong.” Even today, whenever he encounters a judicial colleague who is also a fellow UC Hastings graduate, there’s an “immediate tie. We can share war stories.”

UC Hastings’ commitment to pro bono work and public service are “heavily ingrained” in the institution, and therefore in its alumni, says Mark Schickman, past president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, who now serves on the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors. As a result, “Some of the most distinguished judges on the bench are UC Hastings alumni,” Schickman says. “In terms of practicing in and being on the bench in Northern California, there’s no better degree than one from UC Hastings.”

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