How many young attorneys can say that they argued a case before the California Supreme Court in their first 18 months of practice?
California Western graduate Elizabeth M. Carino ’12 of the California Attorney General’s Office can.
Not only did Carino argue the case and win in a unanimous ruling by the seven California Supreme Court justices, but the opinion created new and important case law in California.
“I’ve been an attorney for year and a half but I think I had an advantage because I’ve had this case since before I was an attorney,” says Carino, who was working as a post-bar clerk when she was first assigned the case.
“This initially began as a human smuggling case,” she says. “A Brazilian man paid to have the defendants smuggle his wife and son into the United States, and when things went sour, the defendants refused to release the mother and son. That’s when it turned into a kidnapping. The defendants were demanding money—and the husband didn’t have any more money.”
In the case, People v. Reynaldo Junior Eid, et al., Eid and his codefendant Oliveira were each charged with two counts of kidnapping for ransom. A Superior Court jury acquitted the defendants of kidnapping for ransom on both counts, but found them guilty of two uncharged lesser included offenses–attempted extortion and misdemeanor false imprisonment—on each count.
The defendants filed an appeal claiming that under California law, they could be convicted of only one lesser included offense per count. The court of appeal agreed and as a result, the court reversed the misdemeanor false imprisonment convictions—which effectively cut the defendant’s sentence in half.
After losing on that issue at the appellate level, Carino filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court which was granted. After filing multiple briefs in the Supreme Court, Carino began preparing for the oral argument.
“At the Attorney General’s Office, they do a great job of preparing us for oral arguments,” says Carino. “Being able to practice my oral argument in front of seasoned attorneys in my office was invaluable. This was truly a team effort and I couldn’t have done it without the advice and support I received.”
When Carino walked into the Supreme Court in San Francisco, she felt prepared.
“I just took a deep breath. It was a beautiful courtroom. I looked at all seven justices and I kind of just smiled because it was so cool just being there—especially so soon in my career.”
Once she began her oral argument, everything fell into place.
“It went very well.” Carino says. “Everything that I anticipated would go wrong did not go wrong. I didn’t freeze, I didn’t faint—I knew my case and I believed in my case.”
For Carino, that courtroom moment was not just the result of her excellent preparation, but was the sum of all of her experiences at California Western which helped her to succeed.
While at California Western, Carino took advantage of every opportunity to gain practical skills and experience. She was an Honors Instructor for Legal Skills, the president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA), an executive board member of the Moot Court Honors Board, and an associate editor of Law Review. In her last year of law school, Carino externed for Justice McIntyre at the Fourth District, Division One Court of Appeal and interned at the California Attorney General’s Office.
Yet she feels much of the groundwork for her success was laid in the classroom.
“I really do think that our Legal Skills program here at California Western is top-notch,” says Carino. “The professors do an amazing job teaching the students the most basic and fundamental skill that every attorney needs—that’s to be an effective writer. We, for the most part, win or lose a case on paper.”
Carino has high praise for the Legal Skills professor who mentored her.
“I owe a lot to Professor Ruth Hargrove. She taught me how to write effectively and to make each word propel my argument forward. A lot of the basic skills I carry with me are skills she taught me when I was a 1L. Before my Supreme Court argument, I drove to her house so she could give me a pep talk—she did and it was perfect.”
At the California Supreme Court, Carino’s case came down to the interpretation of just one word: “any.”
California Penal Code Section 1159. “The jury, or the judge if a jury trial is waived, may find the defendant guilty of any offense, the commission of which is necessarily included in that with which he is charged, or of an attempt to commit the offense.”
When the legislature passed PC 1159, did “any offense” mean just one lesser included offense, or all offenses?
The appeals court had ruled that “any” meant just one offense—but the California Supreme Court sided with Carino’s argument that “any” meant more than one offense—and she won her case. The Supreme Court upheld the multiple lesser included offense convictions, making new case law that created new binding authority on the application of PC 1159.
“I think that this case is important not only because it is the first of its kind in California, but also because of its practical significance in holding the defendants accountable for the crimes they commit,” says Carino.
As for the experience of arguing before the California Supreme Court and winning her case so early in her career?
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Carino says. “It’s definitely a great accomplishment. I recognize that it was a great opportunity for me to have in the first place. But it really gives new meaning to the phrase ‘hard work pays off.’”
Learn about California Western’s Legal Skills Program.