The University of San Francisco School of Law is celebrating a momentous milestone: its centennial, and its first 100 years of graduating exceptional attorneys committed to creating a better world.
Founded on Sept. 18, 1912 in downtown San Francisco, on the corner of Market and Seventh streets, the school has grown from 39 students to more than 700 today. U.S. News and World Report ranks it 10th in the nation for ethnic diversity.
“The law is a profession capable of doing enormous good,” says Dean Jeffrey Brand. “Our graduates empower the powerless and help change a world plagued by injustice. As we begin our second century in this magnificent city, we rededicate ourselves to our vital mission of educating for justice.”
You can see that strong commitment to justice everywhere at the USF School of Law: in the students who work to abolish the death penalty and stop juveniles from being sentenced to life without parole; in the 22,000 hours of legal work students volunteered last year; in the seven legal clinics the school offers free to the public; in the school’s academic centers that focus on global justice and ethics; and in the 300 alumni who have served as judges.
To mark its 100th birthday, the school launched a year-long celebration. It includes hosting a session of the California Supreme Court on campus, a gala dinner at San Francisco City Hall, and a convocation featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose father helped celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.
A half century ago, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy urged USF’s students to become “…lawyers courageously dedicated to the broadest horizons of citizenship and service.”
That’s a high standard, but one that’s being met by graduates of the USF School of Law, as you’ll see in the profiles below.
Jessica Grant JD ’95
Trial Lawyer, Sher Leff LLP
Trial lawyer Jessica Grant JD ’95 thrives in high stakes cases where hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line and the law delves into uncharted areas. Nowhere was that more evident than in 2005, when four years of working on a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. culminated in a four-month trial and a $172 million verdict on behalf of 116,000 employees who were denied meal breaks.
“We were having to invent the wheel as we went along,” she said. “We changed the way Wal-Mart does business. We won a permanent injunction against them in California.”
She was just 10 years out of law school when she won that case, and part of a three-person legal team that was vastly outnumbered by the retailer’s two dozen attorneys. In her experience, however, there isn’t necessarily strength in numbers.
“If you have a small group of people who can work together, you can be much more effective and nimble than a large group,” she said. “We were able to outmaneuver the Wal-Mart team because we had a small unit moving in the same direction.”
Now she has her sights set on 14 of the nation’s largest oil companies, including Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil Corp., and Shell Oil Co., as she represents the state of New Hampshire in a landmark groundwater contamination case. State of New Hampshire v. Hess Corporation, set to begin jury selection in November, is the largest case that she knows of to have ever gone to trial in any state, she said. San Francisco-based Sher Leff LLP recruited Grant to the firm because she is one of very few attorneys who have handled a statewide case of this magnitude.
“I took on Wal-Mart and now Exxon and just about every other major oil company. I want to hold them accountable,” she said. “But I’m not your standard plaintiff’s lawyer. I’ve represented large corporations, too, when I see that a claim against them is unjust.”
Describing her typical day as “frenetic,” she said it’s important to find ways to tune out occasionally. Yet, even her down time is high stakes: “I’ve started taking flying lessons. In the air, I can’t think about work. The only thing I can think about is not crashing.”
Fighting for California’s Farmworkers
Felicia Espinosa JD ’09
Directing Attorney, California Rural Legal Assistance
Felicia Espinosa’s law office is, at times, a weathered park bench, a patch of shade beside an olive orchard, or a client’s living room in a small Fresno apartment. Her salary is modest, and the resources to do her job scarce. Yet, despite the challenges she faces as a public interest lawyer for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a nonprofit in California’s Central Valley, Espinosa JD ’09 has time and again prevailed in David and Goliath battles against companies with unlimited resources.
“Felicia is a fearless and innovative litigator who deeply believes that the fight for social justice requires top-flight lawyering on behalf of clients who are overlooked, abused, and taken advantage of,” said Blanca Banuelos, CRLA regional director.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in 2011, when she won a settlement in Regino Primitivo Gomez et al. v. H&R Gunlund Ranches that paid farmworkers $915,000 to resolve claims related to unpaid wages, violations of state rest and meal period requirements, and not providing the necessary tools for pruning and tying grapevines.
“I was shocked to be lead on that case so soon after graduating, but you don’t have a choice in the nonprofit world,” Espinosa said. “My priority is to be sure that clients believe in me and know that I’ll be able to carry the case in front of a large national law firm. The best compliment I have received is when a client said, ‘I’m really nervous for when Felicia is no longer my attorney.’ I was proud and humbled.”
Making History on State Supreme Court
Ming Chin ’64, JD ’67
Associate Justice, California Supreme Court
Ming Chin’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from China nearly 100 years ago. His father worked long days in the potato fields while his mother cared for their eight children. The couple waited 30 years for Congress to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act, allowing them to enter a courtroom—for the first and only time in their lives—and take the oath of citizenship.
“It was one of their proudest days,” said Chin ’64, JD ’67. “In spite of the discrimination they endured, they loved their adopted country. They loved the freedom and liberty it gave them, including the ability to educate their children.”
When the elder Chin began his journey to the U.S. at age 18, surely he could not have imagined that one day his son would sit on the California Supreme Court.
Ming Chin is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who became the first Chinese American to serve on the state’s highest court when he was appointed in 1996 by Gov. Pete Wilson. Previously, he held positions in private practice, as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, as an Alameda County Superior Court judge, and as a First District Court of Appeal justice.
Chin has authored landmark decisions in areas such as DNA, toxic tort insurance coverage, surrogate parents, and hate crimes. He has received countless awards and honors from bar associations, community organizations, and universities, including USF Alumnus of the Year.
“Because of my father’s hard work and determination, my family and I have the privilege of living the American dream,” he said.
The Lab to the Law
Gladys Monroy JD ’86
Senior Partner, Morrison & Foerster LLP
When Gladys Monroy JD ’86 began law school, she was an accomplished scientist specializing in biotechnology. Monroy, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry, had worked as a researcher at UCSF and as an assistant professor at New York Medical College. But Monroy left the lab to study law because she wanted to help bring technology to wider public use. A conversation with USF law professor J. Thomas McCarthy confirmed her decision to pursue patent law.
“I made the decision to go to law school at a time when biotechnology companies were just beginning to grow, and I was interested in ways that the technology developed in university labs could be translated into public use and how the universities could derive an income from those technologies,” Monroy said.
Today, Monroy is a senior partner in the Palo Alto office of Morrison & Foerster LLP. A former co-chair of the firm’s intellectual property practice, Monroy has held leadership positions in intellectual property law associations, including president of the Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association and Executive Committee member of the California State Bar Intellectual Property Section. She was also elected to the IP Law & Business Patent Prosecution Hall of Fame.
She represents companies of all sizes in the areas of patent prosecution and technology transfers within the field of life science. Monroy says that one of the most rewarding cases she’s worked on was writing the seminal patent for Chiron Corporation’s Hepatitis C technology, which now underlies the screening programs for the Hepatitis C virus in blood supplies worldwide.
“I use my scientific background every day, and overlaying it with law and business is exciting,” she said.
Thirty years after encouraging her to pursue a career in patent law, McCarthy remains in close contact with Monroy, who recently brought him in as counsel with Morrison & Foerster.
“Gladys impressed me as one of the brightest and most focused students I’ve mentored in my more than 45 years on the faculty,” McCarthy said. “She went on to become a superstar patent attorney in the important and growing field of biotechnology. I’m immensely proud of Gladys and her accomplishments.”
Stopping Crime Before It Starts
Suzy Loftus JD ’05
COO, Center for Youth Wellness
Plagued by high rates of unemployment, crime, poverty, and disease, San Francisco’s Bayview District is the city’s poorest and most violent neighborhood. Most affected by this toxic environment are the children who call it home. With mounting research showing the adverse impact of early exposure to poverty and violence on the minds and bodies of children, former prosecutor Suzy Loftus JD ’05 is leading an effort to bring one-stop health and wellness care to kids in Bayview.
Loftus is COO of the Center for Youth Wellness, which, when it opens this spring, will combine pediatric medicine with mental health services, educational support, family support, research, and child abuse response. The center’s partners include California Pacific Medical Center, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
“You get the attention of even the most hard-nosed prosecutor and hard-lined public official if you tell them that there is something you can do when a child is 4 years old that will prevent them from engaging in criminal behavior when they grow up,” Loftus said.
Loftus was formerly special assistant attorney general to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who helped establish the vision for the center when she served as San Francisco district attorney. Loftus also served six years in the DA’s office and was recently appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission.
Although her new role with the Center for Youth Wellness takes her legal career down an unconventional path, the mother of three and San Francisco native says it is an opportunity to combine her legal training and Jesuit values in service to a community that is suffering.
“The center will provide services that will save lives. It is absolutely related to public safety.”
From Janitor’s Son to Judge
Martin Jenkins JD ’80
Associate Justice, California Court of Appeal for the First District
Martin Jenkins JD ’80 learned the value of public service from his father, who worked for decades as a janitor at Coit Tower.
“I saw him get up every day to serve the city and county of San Francisco, and he was proud of what he did,” Jenkins said. “My parents sacrificed to send us to Catholic school, and I wanted to give back.”
Jenkins found his own way of doing that through a career in law, first as a prosecutor with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, then as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, and, for the last two decades, as a judge on both state and federal benches. He is currently an associate justice with the California Court of Appeal for the First District.
There was a time when he thought it more likely that he would become a professional football player than a lawyer (let alone a judge), even going through training camp with the Seattle Seahawks. But he says he wouldn’t change a thing because his career in law allows him to live a life where values and character matter.
“I have a job where I get paid to do what’s right, appropriately constrained by the U.S. and California constitutions, statutes, case law, where relevant, and the facts. I go home every night and feel that I’ve made a difference.”
Perhaps no one feels more of a sense of satisfaction than Jenkins’ father, who 15 years ago joined his son in Washington, D.C., for his confirmation as judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
“He had seen and experienced discrimination and segregation as a young man and then, later in life, watched his son sitting before the Senate Judiciary Committee being confirmed as a federal judge. I will never forget the look on his face.”
Prosecuting Crimes Against Humanity
Sun Kim JD ’08
Associate Legal Officer, United Nations
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Sun Kim JD ’08 chose the USF School of Law because its strength in international and public interest law meshed with her aspirations to work on international justice issues. Just four years after graduating, Kim is now working on one of the most-watched United Nations war crimes tribunals in history.
Kim lives in The Hague, Netherlands, where she is an associate legal officer for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She is part of the legal team assisting judges on the case against former Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadzic, who is accused of committing war crimes against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats during the siege of Sarajevo, as well as ordering the Srebrenica massacre.
Her responsibilities include writing bench memos on particular areas of law and procedure, analyzing evidence admitted in trial, and assisting in the motion practice before the bench. Her career in international criminal law began in 2008 when she landed an internship working on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“I went to law school thinking I wanted to practice public international law but was unsure how to get there and chose a path that was unique at the time. It has paid off and was worth every effort that I made,” she said. “I leave my office every day feeling like I am making a positive contribution to international criminal justice. I couldn’t ask for anything more in a job.”
Demanding Justice After Deadly Explosion
Frank Pitre ’77, JD ’81
Partner, Cotchett, Pitre, and Mccarthy LLP
Frank Pitre ’77, JD ’81 can trace his decision to become a lawyer to a day when he was a teenager, sitting in the back of his father’s South San Francisco produce market counting zucchini.
“I watched my father, a Sicilian immigrant, work seven days a week,” he said. “In our community, people worked ungodly hours in difficult conditions to put food on the table. I knew that there had to be a better way and learned in government class that you could use the justice system to improve quality of life.”
Fast forward 40 years, and things have come full circle: Pitre is a prominent trial lawyer who is representing 50 families affected by the deadly 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, the same community where he was raised.
A partner at the Burlingame-based Cotchett, Pitre, and McCarthy LLP, Pitre has won millions of dollars for victims of consumer fraud and injury. In one recent case, he recovered the largest individual wrongful death verdict in San Diego County history, when a jury awarded $17.4 million to the family of a U.S. Navy officer killed in a collision with an American Medical Response transport van.
Pitre says the most difficult part of his job is listening to the pain that his clients have endured and recognizing that no monetary settlement will make them whole again.
“That’s tough to swallow,” he said. “What I hope is that these cases change the behavior that led to the injury. I want to make sure that what we are doing in court goes into the boardroom.”