Wednesday, June 16, 2004

cd Ink

[I don't have a hard copy or a link to the pay-service online version, but - since I can be a self-horn-tooter, here's a Daily Journal article in which I am featured. I would say I am 85% accurately quoted. There are some nuances from my conversation with the reporter, but nothing too objectionable. I did say that I wanted a future in politics (in addition to/instead of/related to a job in the legislature), and I do not work in San Francisco per se - but any more detail on my location is imprudent. Enjoy! - cd]

June 16, 2004

A Hastings Clinic Puts Externs in The State Capitol to Study the Legislative Process Up Close

By Linda Rapattoni
Daily Journal Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO - Lawyers and legislators don't always speak the same language. Law student Christiana Dominguez wanted to bridge that gap.

She joined a select group of students in a fledgling legislative clinic offered by Hastings College of the Law this year that placed them as externs in various offices at the state Capitol.

"I heard there's a barrier between staff that don't have a legal background and counsel analyzing bills or lobbying bills," Dominguez said. "[The clinic] puts me in a position to translate between these two worlds that don't exist independent of each other and frequently ignore each other."

While some of her fellow students were surprised at how politics dominates nearly every aspect of the legislative process, Dominguez had already served as an Unruh fellow in former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson's office.

"It's kind of frightening how insulated law students can be on how a bill becomes a law," Dominguez said. "I don't fault them for it, but I fault the lumbering and slow-to-change legal education system."

Hastings is out to improve that for its students, and perhaps a few others across the state. That was one of its goals when it initiated its legislation clinic.

"Courts no longer define the law, they interpret statutes," said professor Michael Salerno, the clinic's supervisor. "When there's a legal dispute over a statute, how the statute was constructed and where to go to ascertain the legislative intent is a very, very valuable skill you don't get in law school, but you do get here."

Other law schools set up government externships in Sacramento for students. But Salerno said the Hastings clinic is the most comprehensive.

"This program is unique because it's on site. Students are required to take an introductory course, and they are placed in pre-arranged positions - they don't find them on their own," Salerno said. "There's a curriculum that goes with it that all are required to participate in, and they are very closely supervised."

Each student worked under a lawyer in the Capitol and met with Salerno at least weekly and often two or three times a week for four months.

The students took various positions - one in the governor's office, several with lawmakers and others with legislative committees. Each got a different view of the legislative process and shared those views with the others during regular meetings with Salerno.

It was eye-opening for many.

"I'd see how certain organizations like labor groups would typically associate with political parties, and how people voted along the party line according to who the sponsors were," said second-year law student Chris Callegari. "You could almost predict the way it [the vote] would go compared with the merits of the bills. I'd see well-intentioned interest groups that aren't stakeholders and they'd be given a chance to speak in committees, but just as a matter of protocol."

Said Jennifer Euler, who graduated with a law degree in May, "The politics are big. When it comes down to which bills get heard, or if they're on the consent calendar or when they are heard, I think it's very political - and much more political than I expected."

Dominguez said she learned new things, too, as an extern with Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. It gave her a opportunity to meet with more lobbyists and constituents than had her earlier fellowship in Wesson's office, she said.

"What was educational to me, and bothersome at times, was the extent to which everyone involved in the process has to work with so many people, reasonable and not reasonable," she said. "The sheer acrobatics to balance all of that - and people came out of the woodwork you were not expecting. You need to be able to put people together and make them happy, or in a way they don't know they're unhappy."

Hastings professor David Jung, director of the school's Center for State and Local Government Law, said the clinic is an extension of a program launched 20 years ago by the late professor Julian Levi and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.

That program, modeled loosely on similar efforts in other states, provides students to research legal issues of relevance to the Legislature.

Levi believed a publicly supported institution should return a benefit to the public, Jung said.

"Professors Salerno and Jung came to me last year with a proposal to establish the clinic," said Hastings Chancellor and Dean Mary Kay Kane.

"It came at a time when, obviously, we didn't have many funds, and clinics are very expensive because there are fewer students than in classrooms," she said. "But it's part of our whole mission. One of the things we do well is train lawyers who go into government."

Hastings will open the clinic next year to students at other law schools in the University of California system and selected private law schools.

"It's a very radical idea for students to register or cross-register," Jung said. "There are hurdles to that kind of thing. But it's simply too good of a program not to offer the opportunity to schools that wouldn't want to set up a program, but would like to have access to it. A lot of law practice is about networking. There's no reason students shouldn't be making those connections as early in their careers as possible."

Salerno, a deputy legislative counsel, is the key to the program because it is important to have someone on site who knows how the Legislature works and where to make the placements, Jung said.

Salerno said students in the clinic were a little unhappy being asked to start the school semester earlier than usual by showing up in early January for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first State of the State Address. Following the speech, Salerno arranged for the students to meet Diane Cummings, a policy consultant for Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, and Richard Mersereau, policy director for the Assembly Republican Caucus.

"They started talking about the State of the State on multiple levels for two hours," Salerno said. "The students said, 'We can't believe how well they get along together.' They came to understand that today you may be on opposite sides, but tomorrow you may be working together."

The students got a close look at how the Legislature reacted to a new administration that came to power through a historic recall.

Schwarzenegger's staff also had to react quickly.

"They had to start building their files in mid [legislative] session," said Callegari, who had been placed in the governor's office. "They wanted their own agencies' analyses and not those done by the previous administration. I got exposed to more of a broad range of bills and issues but at less depth than my counterparts."

As the Legislature sent bills to the governor, Callegari's job was to review the agency's analysis, look at constituents' views and prepare an executive brief, which a deputy reviewed and submitted to the governor, who would decide the bill's fate.

"I got to incorporate a big component of professor Salerno's teaching on statutory interpretation, spotting any ambiguity, analyzing how it could lead to unintended consequences, and actual drafting techniques," Callegari said.

Callegari had worked for five years with a private environmental consulting firm in Southern California before seeking a law degree. He is clerking at a San Francisco law firm this summer. Although interested in politics, he doesn't plan a political career right now, but he said the clinic has affected him profoundly.

"It will be something I will follow more closely rest of my life," Callegari said.

Euler, who said she wants to be a deputy district attorney, got a chance to work with a former prosecutor, Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange.

"I carried six bills," she said. "It was about half of the ones he was carrying this session. I was the one who prepared them for committee, did background on them and got him ready to go to committee on them. I met with constituents and responded to some constituent letters.

"I saw him every day. We'd talk. Not all students had the same experience. It was just exciting."

Dominguez, who also is clerking for a law firm in San Francisco this summer, hopes to find a job working in the Legislature.

Salerno said he tells all of his students they have an attorney-client relationship with the officials they work for.

"Once you accept the job, you have to do it in a very professional manner," Salerno said. "I tell the students that because you can have such an incredible impact on people. We discuss the ethics up front, in the first week of orientation."

Salerno asked each student about his or her political beliefs, the issues that interested them and for their top three preferences for placement.

Halfway through the semester, he learned that one student felt uncomfortable working with a lawmaker whose views differed radically from the student's. The student was supposed to have been working with a committee the lawmaker chaired but wound up working more directly for the politician, Salerno said.

He quickly arranged to have the student shifted to a more moderate committee consultant.

Jung said it is important for students to learn their role as a lawyer, especially when working in the legislative process.

"Does a city attorney have to share the views of the mayor?" Jung said. "Can one do legal work for someone with a different affiliation and still do the right thing? We spend several weeks just talking about that. The idea is that a lawyer can tell you what the law is and whatever you want to do with it is up to you. I would almost hope that students discover their political philosophy is not always the same [as their clients']."

Several students, including Briana Morgan, who worked with the Assembly Public Safety Committee, and Joel Buckingham, who worked with Sen. Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, said they were impressed by the commitment made by the lawmakers and their staffs.

"Right now there's such a negative [public] opinion of the capital in general," Morgan said. "This semester has changed some of that for me. It's so full of people who really believe in what they are doing."

Salerno said he wants the clinic to give students a "nuanced view of the law."

"I wanted them to understand the external pressures - whether it's a new governor, or special interest groups, or how administrative agencies connect to the process," Salerno said. "Law isn't just what the Legislature enacts, but what happens to it when it goes to an administrative agency. Finally, I wanted to show them how their legal education fits into the fabric of the law. It's a tapestry."

[Update: So, one of my email programs automatically spell checks before it sends mail. Apparently, Bill Gates is Italian and hungry. For the reporter's name, the suggested correction was "Rigatoni," for my friend Chris, his last name would've become "Calamari," and my former boss? I thought he was Armenian, but apparently "Sicilian" is the better form of "Simitian." Amusing.]

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