The UC Irvine School of Law Appellate Litigation Clinic: Delivering Unparalleled Lessons in Lawyering at the Highest Levels of the Profession

03-27-17

By Marco A. Pulido '15

Marco A. Pulido '15

Sitting en banc in Bringas-Rodriguez v. Sessions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently reversed its precedent and found that Carlos Alberto Bringas-Rodriguez suffered past persecution in Mexico on account of being gay. Bringas-Rodriguez was diagnosed with HIV and was abused horrifically as a child in Mexico. The appeal was filed after Bringas-Rodriguez was denied asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture. Alongside seasoned and brilliant appellate practitioners, I had the privilege of working on this pro bono case during the early stages of the appeal as a student in the Appellate Litigation Clinic.

The Clinic ordinarily provides students the valuable opportunity to brief and argue an appellate case under the supervision of experienced appellate lawyers. Under the stellar guidance of Clinic Professor Mary-Christine “M.C.” Sungaila, fellow student Andrea Ringer '15 and I drafted the opening brief and the reply brief submitted in Bringas-Rodriguez. And after all the briefs had been filed, we rigorously prepared to deliver an oral argument to the Ninth Circuit. Throughout this process, we learned countless lessons in lawyering from M.C. Sungaila and the two other terrific clinic professors at the time, Kathryn Davis and Peter Afrasiabi. Then, in November 2014, Andrea and I delivered our oral argument to a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit. This event marked the pinnacle of my time at UCI Law, and we eagerly awaited the three-judge panel’s decision.

A year later the Ninth Circuit panel issued a 2-1 published opinion against our client. However, there was a vigorous dissent penned by Judge William A. Fletcher. This dissent provided an opening for an en banc petition to be filed. I started clerking around the time the three-judge panel decision issued, and so I have not worked on the case since. But, from the sidelines, I enthusiastically watched from afar as students from my alma matter, led by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, M.C. Sungaila, Kathryn Davis, and Munmeeth Soni, carried the torch and pressed on — seeking and securing an en banc rehearing of the case. After the Ninth Circuit ordered the en banc rehearing, the court requested additional copies of the original briefs Andrea and I helped draft. And the court permitted and received supplemental briefing, as well as amici curiae briefs from more than a dozen organizations that filed briefs in support of Bringas-Rodriguez.

The court heard oral arguments in September 2016, and the monumental collaborative effort by so many culminated with a marvelous oral argument delivered by Dean Chemerinsky. A few weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled in favor of Bringas-Rodriguez and, among other things, overruled circuit precedent introducing a heightened evidentiary standard for children who suffered past persecution on account of their sexual orientation. The en banc opinion even adopted points that we had made in our briefing to the original panel. This victory, which has put Bringas-Rodriguez one step closer to obtaining the relief he seeks, is a testament to the truly wonderful pro bono work the Clinic provides while delivering top-notch experiential lessons in lawyering to its students. And it is also one of the many reasons that I am proud to have been part of the case, the Clinic, and the UC Irvine School of Law.

Marco A. Pulido graduated with honors from the UC Irvine School of Law in 2015 and served on the executive board of the UC Irvine Law Review. Marco is excited to join the Orange County office of Haynes and Boone after completing his federal judicial clerkship in August 2017. Any views expressed herein are solely his own.