Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Southwestern Appellate Litigation Practicum Students Win Published Ruling in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals January 17, 2014
Southwestern Appellate Litigation Practicum Students Win Published Ruling in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Class of 2013 graduates Isaiah Costas and Alexis Diamond successfully advocate immigration case

When it comes to practicing law, one of the most effective ways to prepare students for the profession is to get experience litigating real cases. As participants in Southwestern's Appellate Litigation Clinic, recent alumni Isaiah Costas '13 and Alexis Diamond '13 had their day in court. Last August, under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Andrew Knapp, they argued in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On December 24, they found out that they won their case in a published decision.

In a highly complex matter that has been in process for nearly 10 years, Costas and Diamonds' client - a citizen of Honduras - sought the right to a motion to reopen his appeal, which was dismissed as untimely, of the immigration court's deportation order, which the Board of Immigration Appeals denied more than once, contending that it did not have jurisdiction over his motion to reopen.

Several months after Costas and Diamond filed their briefs and argued before the panel of judges, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals was erroneously using its place-of-filing rule to disclaim jurisdiction. "This had the practical effect of depriving immigrants of a statutory right and trapping them in a no-man's land where all adjudicatory bodies in this chutes-and-ladders system purported not to have jurisdiction," Costas explained.

For their client, this decision means that the Board must accept jurisdiction and determine whether or not to adjudicate the motion to reopen.

"We count this is a big win for immigrants, and it should have a noticeable impact on federal law and practice," Diamond said. "Professor Knapp's insight into immigration law and policy was instrumental in both drafting the briefs and structuring oral argument. He was able to guide Isaiah and me in anticipating any holes in our argument while always bringing us back to the bigger policy considerations."

Professor Knapp is the Chief Financial Officer of Immigrant Access to Justice Assistance (IAJA), a California nonprofit public benefit corporation that provides pro bono immigration legal assistance to disadvantaged noncitizens subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

"During my long career as an immigration practitioner, I've only argued five cases myself before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and while all five of my prior published Ninth Circuit decisions were also grants, I can honestly say that both Alexis and Isaiah showed more poise and confidence before their panel of Ninth Circuit Judges, in this very challenging immigration case, than I ever have," he said. "For this I credit the students' hard work and dedication, as well as Southwestern's forward-looking emphasis on practical legal education, including the fantastic opportunity participation in the Appellate Litigation Practicum offers to work on real-life cases that can actually make a positive difference in both the individual client's life as well as in softening our country's harsh immigration laws."

Costas and Diamond began the Practicum during the Spring 2013 semester and completed their briefs before May. Case preparation entailed vast quantities of research and strategy. "Neither Alexis nor I knew anything about immigration law before we represented our client," Costas said. "The most important aspect was educating and immersing ourselves in immigration law to the point of comfort. Preparation is 99% of the battle."

Costas and Diamond also credit their vast Moot Court Honors Program experiences for their success in the appellate court. While a student at Southwestern, Diamond was Chair of the Moot Court Board. "The Moot Court Honors Program gave me practical skills needed to draft an appellate brief and engage in oral argument," she said. "In addition to making sure we had a road map that included crucial legal points, we knew the law and case backwards and forwards in order to intelligently respond to questions posed throughout the argument. This experience was invaluable because during my actual argument at the Circuit, when a judge asked me a long winded question involving the procedural history of Marbury v. Madison, a case completely unrelated to the issue at hand, I was able to answer succinctly, and smoothly transition to my next point."

Diamond passed the July California Bar Exam and is looking to work in criminal law or appellate practice. "Arguing in front of real judges at the Ninth Circuit with a fellow Moot Court Board member was such an auspicious occasion and will always be a highlight of my legal career," she said.

Costas, currently a licensed attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada, practicing in a large firm in the area of civil litigation defense, was a member of the Moot Court Board. At the University of Oxford, England's Price International Moot Court competition, he placed as a Semi-Finalist, winning both Best Briefs and a Perfect Score at the Americas Regional Rounds in New York City. In the International Rounds held at the University of Oxford, England, he also placed as a Semi-finalist with Best Briefs internationally.

"Unequivocally, I attribute success at the Circuit to our combined success in our respective Moot Court competitions," Costas said. "In fact, personally, I was less afraid of the real Ninth Circuit judges than the judges I encountered at my University of Oxford, England competition."

Professor Alexandra D'Italia, a co-advisor of the Moot Court Honors Program at Southwestern, said, "I am excited to hear of Alexis and Isaiah's win, although I am not surprised. In the Moot Court Honors Program they both trained hard and succeeded in becoming excellent advocates. They are role models for our students in utilizing Southwestern's practical skills programs and applying their newly honed skills in the real world."

The case can be found at Hernandez v. Holder, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 25612 (9th Cir. 2013) and heard here or at Westlaw: Euceda Hernandez v. Holder, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 6768138, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 25612 (9th Cir. 2013).