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Maile Padilla ’10 Wins Prestigious Fellowship to Help Indigent Clients

By Andrew Cohen

Over the course of four semesters at Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinic, Maile Padilla ’10 marveled at the “incredible level of training” she received from Director Elisabeth Semel and Associate Director Ty Alper. As a Contra Costa County public defender, Padilla says she draws upon her invaluable training every day but misses that mentorship—a big reason why she is “thrilled” to be one just three recipients of this year’s E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship.

“Lis and Ty were always accessible no matter the time or topic and never failed to closely review my work,” Padilla said. But with resources scant in public defender offices, she has faced a sobering adjustment: handling a heavy caseload almost entirely on her own. “That’s why this fellowship opportunity was so appealing.”

The Prettyman Fellowship is a two-year criminal law LL.M. program run by the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C. Only three law school graduates are selected each year out of hundreds of applicants. Fellows receive a stipend of $51,150 per year in addition to full tuition and fees; participation is contingent upon admission to the District of Columbia Bar.

In the first five weeks, fellows engage in a rigorous study of criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, and trial practice. Thereafter, they represent indigent clients in criminal cases in the D.C. local courts, starting with misdemeanor cases and progressing to felonies.

Their trial work is supervised closely by three law professors and supported by a professional investigator and law-student interns. In the second year, fellows accept fewer cases so they can help supervise students in Georgetown Law’s Criminal Defense & Prisoner Advocacy Clinic, Criminal Justice Clinic, and Juvenile Justice Clinic, while assisting in classroom instruction.

Padilla first heard about the program from Alper, a Prettyman fellow from 1999 to 2001. “He told me what a great experience it was for clinical education and for learning what it’s truly like to be a criminal defense attorney,” she said.

Semel is confident that the Prettyman selection committee made a wise choice, calling Padilla’s work “breathtaking in its scope, detail, and creativity.” She added that “from her first day in the clinic, Maile took the initiative in a way that we hope to see at the end of the clinical training, and never expect to see at the beginning. She’s one of the most self-sufficient and resourceful students whom I have ever supervised.”

Although the Prettyman Fellowship was initially designed to develop clinical educators, fellows now occupy many supervisory positions in programs that serve indigent defendants. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for example, the fellows were brought in to help revamp the New Orleans Public Defender’s Office.

After her fellowship, Padilla hopes to run a public defender’s office or assume a comparable leadership role in California. A Chicano Studies major at UCLA, she pursued public defense work to address the discrepancies among races and ethnic backgrounds.

“Coming from a community of color, virtually everyone around you is affected by the criminal justice system,” she said. “But the system doesn’t apply to everyone equally. I went into this line of work to uphold the Constitution for poor people with similar backgrounds of my own.”

7/7/2011