Monthly Archives

March 2014

Inspired Justice

Unexpected landings, by Carrie Anderson ’06

I never saw myself working for the federal government, particularly in the field of immigration. I started my career as an immigration lawyer, zealously advocating for the downtrodden and weary, while representing a few businesses to pay the bills. I was an idealist and I loved my job. I could see on a daily basis how I promoted social justice and helped my neighbor. I also loved my area of practice. Immigration law was complicated, intricate and at times, entertaining. I enjoyed dissecting the facts and finding solutions that helped my client’s case. My work supported my faith in a very tangible way, but after three years I wanted to experience the law from another perspective and started working for the government.

Carrie Anderson '06 tests an innovative glove designed by the public for NASA space explorations.

Carrie Anderson ’06 tests an innovative glove designed by the public for NASA space explorations.

In 2009, I moved to Washington, D.C., to begin a career working in immigration law with the federal government. Since that move, I have been fortunate to hold jobs in multiple agencies. I have felt the frustration of bureaucracy and the thrill of making a difference in someone’s life by improving a government program.

At my current job, I help individuals and employers seeking immigration benefits who are experiencing problems using the government system. My casework still allows me the opportunity to dissect the facts and find solutions just like I did in private practice. The difference now is I am inside the system and, for better or worse, an active part of it. There are days when I feel like I make a positive difference in my work, and there are days when I feel like my hands are tied. There are days when I receive glowing letters of appreciation for the work I do and days when the phone will not stop ringing with irate individuals. At all times, I try and remember to recognize each person’s humanity. I try and remember that I am in a unique position to help people and help improve the system. I listen. I wait. I continue to help.

I did not expect to have a career in the government. I still look back at my days in private practice with fondness. I appreciate the lessons of compassion and wisdom my clients taught me. I value the work ethic I developed in my first years as a lawyer. And one day, I might return to that work again.  Until that happens, I try and see the intention of where I have landed in my career and strive to bring goodness to my work.

Carrie Anderson ’06 is a policy analyst with the Federal Government in Washington, D.C.

Inspired Justice

10 years as a public defender, by Keshini Ratnayake ’04

Keshini Ratnayake

Keshini Ratnayake ’04

2014 marks significant milestones for me. May brings the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from law school. By September, I will have been a public defender for 10 years. This decade following law school has been the most challenging of my life. I have grown from an unattached, carefree 24-year-old into a 34-year-old who is married, a mother, and working full time at the public defender’s office.

While I always knew that I wanted to be married and a mother, I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a public defender. I do remember the exact moment I figured it out. It was my first year of law school, and our criminal law class had a speaker who worked in the criminal justice system. I didn’t like the way he was talking about people’s constitutional rights. He was cavalier, and seemed to liken them to inconvenient technicalities. I decided immediately that I would dedicate my life to pushing against that kind of thinking. It is exhausting, frustrating, heartbreaking, challenging, thrilling, and endlessly rewarding, all at the same time.

I became a public defender to stand up for our fellow human beings who have nobody to advocate for them. I believe that everybody, no matter what they’ve been accused of, deserves to have someone stand by their side and tell their story. Several years ago I overheard my mother defending my career choice to someone who held the opinion that “criminals” should all just go to jail. My mother is religious and relatively uneducated about the legal system, so she told the person that the Bible says we’re supposed to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Her perception of what I do has stuck with me because it really is that simple. Helping my partners in the criminal justice system understand that my clients truly are less fortunate is usually my daily goal. It explains why they can’t always make it to court or comply with court-imposed conditions – most don’t have their own car parked in their garage. Most don’t have a permanent home. Sometimes it’s difficult just to scrape together $2 to get on the bus.

Developing empathy for people in these situations is a continuing process for me. I constantly remind myself of the obstacles that my clients face when they do things that irritate me, like blow off office appointments right before serious court hearings. I stop and think about how I got to the office that day. I walked into my garage and got into my reliable vehicle that starts immediately and always has gas in it. I paid cash for my vehicle after law school with my parents’ assistance. I park in a ramp right next to my office that I can afford to pay for on my own because I grew up in a supportive, education-focused family. I am fortunate; my clients are not. I am grateful for every blessing I’ve been given in my life, and I have the privilege of helping those who weren’t so lucky.

Keshini Ratnayake ’04 is an attorney at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office.

Inspired Justice

Putting the “coach” in lawyer, by Christina Hilleary ’09

Student: Okay, so I want to impeach the witness.
Me: Right, that sounds like a good idea here. What he just said doesn’t match what’s in his affidavit.
Student: Yeah, okay. So what do I do?
Me: You know this! We talked about this!
Student: So, I ask to approach?
(I nod, and he begins to approach the witness.)
Me: Practice saying it!
Student: Your honor, may I approach?
Me: Yes, you may.
Student: Now what?
Me: Well, are you going to ask the witness a question? Isn’t that what you’d do?
Student, turning to the witness: Is this your affidavit?
(The witness says yes, and the student attorney reads the relevant portion.)
Student: Now what?
Me: You conclude by saying to the witness, “Did I read that correctly?”
Student, to the witness: Did I read that correctly?
Witness: Yes.
(I now look expectantly at the student, waiting for his next line of questioning. He looks right back at me, as if we’re having a staring contest. He blinks first.)
Student: Your honor that was impeachment!
Me: What? Yeah I know, but no, you can’t say that.
Student, quizzically: Okay…
Me: You’re done; you did the impeachment, now you just move on.
Student: Okay, your honor I move that this witness is impeached –
Me: NO!
Student: Okay, then I move that you impeach this witness!
Me: No! You’re done!
Student: But—
(The student and I both dissolve into laughter)

Christina Hilleary is a 2009 graduate of UST Law and currently works as a judicial law clerk in Minnesota's First Judicial District.

Christina Hilleary ’09

This was me in January, during practice with my students. Back in October, I was asked by a colleague if I would coach a nearby high school mock trial team as a volunteer. I said yes without hesitation.

At the beginning, it was a steep climb. The students needed to learn how to do direct and cross examination, while learning the facts of our case. They had to figure out how and when to object. We “covered” the Rules of Evidence in one forty-five minute session. I’m pretty sure not everyone understands hearsay, but we’ll do better next year.

I enjoy coaching because it’s fun, but also because it fits with my values. The mission at UST Law encourages students to integrate faith and reason in the search for truth – a mission I hold dear in my own life. My beliefs motivate me to do what I can with the extraordinary gifts I have been given. I remember vividly my experiences as a student in high school mock trial, and the lessons I learned stick with me to this day. I also think about the team’s need for my expertise. There is no way the school could pay an attorney to provide this training. I am reminded that just because “work” of whatever kind doesn’t pay doesn’t mean it lacks value.

Christina Hilleary is a 2009 graduate of UST Law and currently works as a judicial law clerk in Minnesota’s First Judicial District.

Inspired Justice

Moot court team advances to national competition

University of St. Thomas School of Law moot court team members Rachelle Velgersdyk, Parker Olson, and James Todd emerged from a 33-team regional tournament in Las Vegas on March 1 to advance to the National Appellate Advocacy Competition Finals held April 10-12 in Chicago. The UST Law team bested teams from the University of Minnesota, Memphis, Vanderbilt, and No. 1-seeded Miami.

“The ABA moot court tournament is the largest and, in my opinion, the most competitive in the country. It draws powerhouse moot-court programs from the top law schools,” coach Aaron Knoll ’12 said. “The team had to fight for every point, judge, and win — and fight they did. They toppled Miami and Memphis (who rank among the top 15 programs nationally) along the way. This is a testament to the sheer grit, perseverance, and brilliance that personify these students. They are phenomenal.”

Also coaching the team is David Carrier ’12. Velgersdyk, Olson, and Todd are members of the UST Law Class of 2014.

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Inspired Justice

Inside the UN: Start of a new HRC session in Geneva

By Joseph Grodahl Biever ’13

Monday began the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The function of the session over the next four weeks is for both the Council and Member States to present their perspectives on particular human rights issues or the human rights records of particular States. The session began with the High-level Segment, featuring statements from government ministers,  heads of state from various countries, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The first day also featured a lunch event sponsored by the Mission of Thailand, generously offering Thai food and drink to all, at which the Secretary General ceremoniously unveiled a beautiful photography exhibit on the occasion of World Wildlife Day.

After the high-level segment concludes tomorrow, the Council will look at specific issues and countries. This session will include reviews of reports from appointed Special Rapporteurs or independent experts on such topics as the freedom of religion, children in armed conflict, the right to food, torture, and more. Special attention will also be given to the human rights situations in North Korea, Syria, Central African Republic, and more. The Holy See, as a permanent observer, will be present throughout the session, as well as making its own interventions on some of the issues presented. It will be a very active few weeks!

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, unveiling the “Wild and Precious” exhibit for World Wildlife Day.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, unveiling the “Wild and Precious” exhibit for World Wildlife Day.

Joseph Grodahl Biever is a Murphy Institute Scholar working to support the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations in Geneva.