Mexican Attorneys at Southwestern Train in Trial Advocacy
As part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program, three Mexican students arrived at Southwestern in January for a full year in the United States, in which they will spend two semesters at the law school learning to train their peers back home in trial advocacy.
The three Mexican students are: Manuel Caloca, 30, a professor at the Universidad de Guadalajara who is a graduate of that law school and also holds an LL.M. degree from the University of Arizona in International Trade Law; Ariadna Camacho, 22, a graduate of Tec of Monterrey (State of Mexico Campus), who has worked at one of Mexico's leading anti-trust law firms; and Diana "Cristal" Obregon, 28, a graduate of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), who spent several years working at Proderecho, the non-governmental organization that has spearheaded USAID's oral advocacy training efforts in Mexico.
Mexico is in the middle of a transition in many of its States from written to oral trials, and the purpose of the program is to allow these students to return to Mexico to assist in efforts to reform the criminal justice system. In particular, they will learn to train others in how to conduct an oral trial. In addition to their studies at Southwestern, they will be receiving extensive training from the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) and will participate this summer in either the Innocence Project at Texas Tech Law School or in externships in Los Angeles.
All three of the students are currently taking Trial Advocacy in which program director and Professor Jonathan Miller says they "have been effectively 'adopted' by the ITAP students." They are also taking Interviewing, Counseling and Negotiation, Constitutional Criminal Procedure and International Human Rights. Obregon and Caloca are in Professor Kelly Strader's White Collar Crime class while Camacho chose Professor Robert Lutz's International Litigation and Arbitration course as her elective. Although it is not their first language, these students are fluent and completing all of their coursework at Southwestern in English.
Obregon was a law student when she was the kidnapped outside of a restaurant in 2001. "The ordeal only lasted five hours, but it felt like years," she said. Luckily, she was not physically harmed, but she never reported the incident because the kidnappers threatened her family and she was too scared that the men wouldn't be brought to justice and would take revenge on her loved ones. "As a citizen and attorney I had been suffering the failures of the system," she said.
She was in charge of talking to legal community and business people in Mexico, encouraging them to embrace the first major reform to the trial system since 1934. Obregon explained that in 2004, then President Vicente Fox introduced the idea of reforming the criminal justice system, but the rest of the government was sluggish to embrace it. Current President Felipe Calderon has vowed to make this overhaul a reality during his tenure, she says.
When Obregon met Lucy Thatcher, a legal consultant for USAID, and found out about the program, it gave her a lot of hope that the criminal justice system throughout Mexico can be changed.
All three students are enjoying their experience here. "I love being at Southwestern," said Obregon. "Students are allowed to think and reason with teachers. Here you analyze specificity of cases. In Mexico, you just learn law and apply it. I love that we have to study all the pages/cases before class. I love that the teachers are open for us in their office. They make us feel like we are part of the school."
Caloca and Camacho say they are happy to be here, too, especially since their fellow Southwestern students, faculty and administrators have embraced them so welcomingly. "We have practical and academic classes," Caloca said. "I love taking the class in White Collar Crime."
As for Camacho, she is excited to be a part of this program because it will empower her to take an active role in the reform in Mexican law. "Oral trials are better for all the citizens in Mexico," she said. "It's an ineffective system right now and the citizens and everyone needs a more effective system of justice. I want to contribute and prepare the new students and our governments and judges."