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Ninth Circuit Appellate Clinic Students Make Their Arguments in Court

Watch a video of Schwartz and Sanders in court

Third-year students Shannon Johnson, Alejandra Salinas, Jeremy Sanders, and Kelly Schwartz just stood before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California and made their arguments to the judges on behalf of their clients–an opportunity that many seasoned lawyers don’t get during their entire careers.

The students are part of BC Law’s cutting-edge Ninth Circuit Appellate Project, a clinic founded by Professor Kari Hong. This is the second year of arguments for the new clinic (read a detailed account of last year’s experience in our BC Law Magazine feature story ‘May It Please the Court‘ from the Summer 2014 issue). BC Law is one of only a handful of schools included in this program, and the only law school outside the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.

The students argued two different cases before the court. In Lopez-Valencia v. Holder, Sanders and Schwartz had the novel claim of whether California’s theft statute—that lists the separate crimes of larceny, false pretenses, and embezzlement—is interpreted as one general theft statute or as one statute enumerating independent offenses. “Kelly and Jeremy were forceful, persuasive, and excellent advocates for our client,” Hong said. “They had to master complicated state law, state procedure, and the application of a 2013 Supreme Court case. If the Court agrees with them, the client—who is a long term lawful permanent resident with extensive family ties—will have an opportunity to keep his green card. If the Court disagrees, the Government will deport Mr. Valencia over the theft of a $2 can of beer.”

The case at issue has important legal implications, and is being watched closely by other attorneys. “Someone forwarded me a message sent by a federal public defender who was listening in on the proceedings,” Hong said. “The message read Good 9th Circuit argument in Courtroom 3 today on theft as being over broad after Rendon. A BC law student is killing it!​

In Blackwell-Hill v. Holder, Shannon Johnson and Alejandra Salinas had the question of first impression of whether Nevada’s solicitation of prostitution statue was a crime involving moral turpitude in light of the fact that Nevada partially legalizes commercial sex when performed in a brothel and defines its solicitation law as involving general intent. “Shannon and Alejandra wrote a sophisticated brief arguing nuanced applications of Nevada state law, deciphering complicated Ninth Circuit precedent, and locating historical materials documenting how the crime of prostitution transformed in the past 100 years from a crime affronting public morals to one regulated due to health and safety concerns,” Hong said. “This briefing was very persuasive and paved the way for the judges to be amenable to considering a novel claim.”

Ms. Blackwell, an elderly woman, has lived in the United States for over 20 years and was severely beaten by her estranged husband, who is a U.S. citizen. A victory would grant Ms. Blackwell legal status and would allow her to remain in the country.

“All four students mastered the skills of brief writing, appellate strategy, and preparation for oral argument,” Hong said. “All transformed from law students into successful advocates. All four students worked long hours and experienced incredible professional growth to argue as well as they did. They exceeded all expectations, and I am so incredibly proud of how well they represented our clients.”

Professor Mary Holper, Professor Dan Kanstroom, research librarian Karen Breda, and BC Law Post-Deportation Project fellow Jessica Chicco served vital roles as formal and informal mentors to the students as they grappled with cutting-edge applications of immigration law. The students also benefitted from a number of Boston- and California-based immigration practitioners, who tested and reframed the arguments presented to the Court.

The Ninth Circuit Appellate Project is possible due to the Ninth Circuit’s highly unique program that permits law students to represent indigent immigrants who would otherwise be without representation. The Court screens and identifies compelling issues that would benefit from pro bono representation.

The Court’s decisions are expected sometime in the next 6 months.

Watch a video of Johnson and Salinas in court

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