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Q&A with Kevin Johnson: Law school dean discusses California Supreme Court ties

By Clifton B. Parker on October 12, 2012 in University

California Supreme Court Visits UC Davis

As reported in Dateline UC Davis last week, the School of Law on Oct. 3 hosted a real session of the California Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye B.A. ’80, J.D. ’84, in the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom in King Hall. Earlier this year, the school launched the California Supreme Court Clinic, the first and only clinic of its kind in the state. Dateline recently sat down with Dean Kevin R. Johnson to talk about the law school’s deepening relationship with the California high court and the opportunities this creates for students and faculty.

Dateline: How did it feel to host oral arguments before the state’s highest court at King Hall?

Dean Johnson: It was a tremendous privilege to have the California Supreme Court at the School of Law. Our faculty, alumni, staff, students and members of the general public were able to witness oral arguments in three fascinating and cutting-edge cases. Outside of the courtroom, the justices were extremely generous with their time. They not only attended a lunch with faculty, students and local attorneys and judges at the UC Davis Conference Center, but they also stayed for a post-argument reception in the King Hall courtyard. The justices mingled with faculty, students and other attendees. All in all, it was an outstanding day and a wonderful learning opportunity for our students.

We have always been proud of our relationship with the court. We have a former justice from the California Supreme Court, Professor Emeritus Cruz Reynoso, on our faculty. Now we have an alumna who is chief justice, and a new California Supreme Court Clinic that offers our students a chance to brief cases before the court.

Dateline: How does the new California Supreme Court Clinic work? What kind of work will students be doing?

Dean Johnson: The California Supreme Court Clinic is a unique program that will give our students real-world experience in real cases with real clients. They will provide pro bono representation to individuals and organizations in matters pending before the court. Under the supervision of clinic director Aimee Feinberg, a former litigator and law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the students will research and write draft briefs. They’ll explore California Supreme Court practice and procedure and study principles of effective appellate advocacy. While other schools have programs that focus on the U.S. Supreme Court, ours is the only clinic that focuses exclusively on the highest court in the nation’s most populous state, California. Like all of our excellent clinics, the California Supreme Court Clinic provides the kind of hands-on practical training that prepares the students well for careers in law.

Dateline: The law school enjoys a strong relationship with Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. How often does she visit King Hall?

Dean Johnson: The chief justice played a huge role in bringing the court’s special session to King Hall. She is an extremely loyal alumna who’s genuinely interested in helping our students learn and become successful. Despite her incredibly busy schedule, she is still very generous with her time and knowledge and visits King Hall regularly. The students were thrilled when she served as commencement speaker for our 2011 graduation; after the ceremony, she stayed for dinner with fellow alumni. For many years now, she has come to speak to our first-year class, most recently last spring. She has visited our class on judicial process.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye often includes people from King Hall when marking her professional milestones, as well. She personally invited former Dean Rex R. Perschbacher and me to her confirmation in San Francisco and her swearing-in at the state Capitol, both of which I gladly attended. I also spoke at the Chief Justice’s Investiture Celebration, which was organized by the Sacramento Bar Association and co-sponsored by the School of Law. It goes without saying that all of us here at the law school are proud and humbled to call her a member of the King Hall community.

I should mention that the school has excellent ties with other members of the court, as well. Just to cite a couple of examples, California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu kindly invited me to his swearing-in last year, and he delivered a wonderful speech as our 2012 commencement speaker. Retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno delivered our Brigitte M. Bodenheimer Lecture on Family Law in 2010, and he will be back here in a few weeks to participate in a panel discussion about the case of Sergio Garcia, an undocumented law school graduate who passed the bar exam but whose immigration status prevents him from practicing law. (The case is pending before the California Supreme Court.)

We are grateful for — and intend to keep fostering — our flourishing relationship with the state’s most important court.

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Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,