Newswise — Executive director and founder David A. Carrillo ’95 has ambitious plans for Berkeley Law’s new California Constitution Center. The nascent center’s fall program starts off with nothing less than a moot court for attorneys whose cases are pending before the Supreme Court of California.
The moot court will give attorneys a chance to practice their arguments, while also providing superb training for law students. Second- and third-year students will prepare bench memoranda and act as law clerks to mock jurists on eight chosen cases. One side of each case will be presented, with a mix of scholars, experienced lawyers, and retired judges on the panel.
Offered in both the fall and spring semesters, the course has drawn intense interest from students and has quickly become oversubscribed. Practitioners seem equally attracted to the program, as all of the argument slots for the current term were quickly snapped up, first-come, first-served.
The program is open to most practitioners with cases before the state Supreme Court, with some special considerations. Cases involving compelling California constitutional issues such as same-sex marriage, for example, will be given priority; capital cases are ineligible due to their complexity.
The moot court idea emerged four years ago at a Berkeley Law conference on the state’s highest court, but it took Carrillo to bring it to fruition.
“The California Constitution Center is another example of Berkeley Law using its outstanding scholarly resources to make a meaningful impact beyond the school,” said Goodwin Liu, a Supreme Court of California justice and former Berkeley Law professor. “Lawyers who appear before the Court, judges, and Berkeley Law students all stand to benefit greatly from this endeavor.”
Carrillo has even grander plans for the center: to develop scholarship on complex policy issues that arise under the state constitution.
“Unlike the federal system, there’s no comprehensive body of legal work available on critical state constitutional issues facing our courts,” said Carrillo. “Be it the state budget, redistricting, or same-sex marriage, California’s state constitution has a dramatic impact on our daily lives. It’s important to understand how its provisions affect us.”
The center will offer several academic programs, including a California Constitutional Law seminar, a yearly journal for articles on issues of state constitutional law and the state Supreme Court, and fellowships for law students.
“The California Constitution Center will offer law students and practitioners alike a means to better understand legal trends that constantly and often uniquely emerge from the nation’s most populous, diverse, and innovative state,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said.
At the 2008 Berkeley Law conference on the Court, then-Chief Justice Ronald George applauded the school’s focus on the state constitution. He noted that state courts decide nearly 98 percent of legal disputes filed in the U.S. and that California comprises “the largest law-trained judicial system in the world.”
“It has been very gratifying to see one of the finest law schools in the nation conclude that state courts, and specifically the California Supreme Court, deserve closer study because of the significant position they occupy in the legal fabric of the United States,” said George.
Carrillo also intends to create a Supreme Court of California bar association for practitioners who have litigated cases in the court, scholars who study the court, and retired justices. “We want to become the clearinghouse for all things related to the state constitution and high court,” he said.
Carlos Moreno, a former Supreme Court of California associate justice, said “it’s time we had a non-partisan academic research center devoted to the critical study of our state constitution and the important work of the California Supreme Court.” He praised the center for “bringing together academics, appellate practitioners, public officials, citizens, and law students to focus on the ever-evolving and unique role of our state constitution.”
Carrillo formed invaluable campus connections while earning his undergraduate, J.D. ’95, LL.M. ’07, and J.S.D. ’11 degrees at UC Berkeley. He tapped his many campus friends and colleagues to empower the center’s efforts—soliciting scholarly contributions from other constitutional law experts and collaborating with the California Law Review.
Active in trial and appellate practice for 16 years, Carrillo has been a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice, a deputy city attorney in San Francisco, and a deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County. He also worked as a commercial litigation associate in private practice.