By Andrew Cohen
For Jesus Mosqueda ’14, the winner of this year’s Berkeley Law Sax Prize for Clinical Advocacy, helping clients at two legal clinics meant seeing his own life at every turn.
“I worked on issues that are at the core of my existence,” Mosqueda said of his efforts with the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and the Death Penalty Clinic. “Whenever a client walked into EBCLC, I saw my mother asking for help because we were about to be evicted. I saw my father trying to clear his criminal record. I saw my uncle pleading with the immigration people because he was about to be deported.”
Mosqueda, honored April 21 at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, was chosen by a faculty committee from a group of nominees who worked at Berkeley Law’s various legal clinics. Named for the late Brian Sax ’69, a respected San Francisco litigator and Berkeley Law lecturer, the prize is given to a graduating legal clinic student who displays excellence in advocacy and professional judgment.
“Jesus has a magnetic humility,” said Death Penalty Clinic Director Elisabeth Semel said during Mosqueda’s introduction. “He showed a deep, genuine interest in everyone he came in contact with, and an ability to share insights and knowledge with grace.”
Mosquda assisted in the defense of two clients facing capital punishment. His responsibilities have included reviewing trial records, interviewing clients and witnesses, examining evidence, working with experts, and preparing an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on implicit bias in jury selection.
“The Death Penalty Clinic pushed me to face my fears,” said Mosqueda, noting one client in particular. “I realized how much my childhood mirrored his. I too am Mexican, had an alcoholic father, grew up in poverty, and witnessed traumatic events at an early age…. But in the wise words of my favorite poet Tupac (Shakur), ‘Just ‘cause you’re from the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow.’”
Mosqueda thanked his mother, who attended the Sax Prize luncheon, for steering him in the right direction. “She became an orphan at the age of eight, crossed the desert in search of a better life, and though we never had much she always managed to put food on the table,” he said. “Mom, everything I am and hope to be I owe to you.”
Fighting for fairness
During the fall 2012 semester, Mosqueda helped EBCLC’s Clean Slate Practice provide direct legal services to low-income clients who’d had contact with the criminal justice system. He interviewed and counseled clients on criminal record remedies and the collateral effects of convictions, and he successfully represented clients at hearings on post-conviction criminal matters in Alameda County Superior Court.
Mosqueda also sent demand letters to background check companies reporting inaccurate criminal histories—and successfully negotiated a five-figure settlement for violations of the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act.
“What stood out about Jesus was his willingness to meet any challenge without hesitation,” said Clean Slate Practice staff attorney Tanya Koshy ’10. “He single-handedly got that settlement against one of the largest background check companies. Post-settlement, he wanted feedback on how he could have done better.”
Mosqueda graduated from UC Berkeley with a 3.83 grade point average despite working 25 to 40 hours a week. After college, he spent two years as a special education teacher in South Los Angeles. He clerked last year in the juvenile division of the public defender offices in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and will begin work this fall at Public Counsel Law Center in Los Angeles.
Associate Dean and Professor Charles Weisselberg emceed the award ceremony. Some of Berkeley Law’s top clinical instructors—Death Penalty Clinic Associate Director Ty Alper, International Human Rights Law Clinic Director Laurel Fletcher, EBCLC Neighborhood Justice Clinic Director Elisa Della-Piana ’02, and Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic Co-Director Chris Hoofnagle—described their students’ wide-ranging achievements over the past year.
Runner-up Stephanie Campos ’14 received the Sax Prize honorable mention award for her stellar work with EBCLC’s Health Practice and Policy Advocacy Clinic. Campos obtained key benefits for HIV-positive clients, developed an educational program on the impacts of health-care reform, and co-authored a policy report on increasing access to critical Affordable Care Act safety networks in California.
“It’s hard enough to navigate the world as an able-bodied person,” Campos said. “My clinic experience gave me the greatest gift of all as a law student: perspective. We can and should do more for people who have been historically marginalized and overlooked.”