Hometown: Dinuba, California
Undergraduate: Fresno Pacific University
Major: Criminology and Restorative Justice
Michael Elizondo has, in his own words, "taken the long road to get" to law school, but "it's been well worth it" as he has been making up the time fast with his lengthy list of accomplishments and successful domestic and international externships. Michael was selected as McGeorge's sole DC Fellow in 2014-2015 working for the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, was selected to spend the spring 2016 semester in practice working as a legal intern of one of the Case 004 Defense Teams at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and participated in a course of study with corresponding externship at the Parades Commission of Northern Ireland, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during summer 2016.
Michael's externships have placed him in the proximity of recent historic events. During his time as a DC Fellow during summer 2015, he was present in the U.S. Supreme Court Chambers for the reading of the historic King vs. Burwell (Obamacare) decision, leading to him to give several interviews afterwards. He was serving in Northern Ireland during the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum "Brexit" vote in June 2016, and saw the effects of the referendum vote in Northern Ireland firsthand.
During summer 2016, Michael was appointed to serve the Parades Commission of Northern Ireland in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he engaged in substantive research. Michael also participated in monitoring the enforcement of the legally binding guidelines for public parades in historically contentious locations around Belfast. He served as a research historian on the trends of parading in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years in various cities all over the country. In addition, Michael monitored parades for compliance with the rules set by the Commission, including types of music, volume and band behavior.
"Parading in Northern Ireland is generally not contentious," Michael stated, "However, historically there have been problem areas where rioting was sadly common in areas where pro-British parades were marching through pro-Irish neighborhoods. Thankfully, the trend in recent years for parading has been rather peaceful. Think insults and tension versus rocks and petrol bombs."
The most controversial series of parades that he monitored while at the Parades Commission was The Twelfth on July 12, which celebrates the anniversary of Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
"Belfast typically hunkers down for the Twelfth with many people going on holiday for two weeks. Thankfully, this year's Twelfth was very orderly and very quiet. It was quite the experience," Michael added. Michael also completed a two-week course of study on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution with Fordham University in both Belfast and Dublin during the summer experience in Ireland where he and other students visited various institutions in Dublin and Belfast. On June 24, 2016, the UK voted to "Brexit" the European Union, and Michael observed first-hand the citizen reactions in Northern Ireland. Michael added that "It will be very interesting to monitor the region going forward, as the question of national identity will resurface as Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted to remain, whereas the rest of the U.K. voted to leave the E.U."
Before his time in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Michael spent his spring 2016 semester in practice working for the UN's Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal set up to try the Khmer Rouge, just outside Phnom Penh. He worked for the Defense Support Section for five months on the defense team for Ao An, one of the alleged perpetrators of crimes that occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1977 to 1979. Michael conducted research on various topics, filed drafts for investigation requests to the Court, drafted documents to the Court on matters of first impression for the defendant in an ongoing multi-count case, which includes genocide, crimes against humanity of extermination, murder and torture.
"The culture shock and jet lag from Sacramento to Phnom Penh is pretty intense, especially considering that I had never travelled internationally before. After I settled in, I just absorbed myself in the work and relished working with other attorneys and interns from all over the world. It's very hard to describe if you haven't done it. I still can't get over the fact that in the five months I was out there, I directly shifted international law on a very narrow issue of first impression on a procedural matter at the ECCC. I dove into foreign systems of law and especially at the ECCC, a lot of the law is undefined. For instance, Cambodian tort law is virtually non-existent," says Michael, who is bound by confidentiality matters on this case from further elaboration about his specific experiences at the ECCC.
Michael concluded the Cambodian externship by submitting a written comparative analysis of personal jurisdiction at the ECCC and US personal jurisdiction to Professor Emerita Linda Carter. "It's a weird thing to say that you've defended genocide, but thanks to my study at McGeorge, I wouldn't have done so otherwise. The work was pretty intense with roughly two million people being killed in three years. Seeing the main prison and main killing fields is quite powerful especially when you're working on the case. But I'm happy to say that I did make my mark where I worked. If you have the opportunity to study law abroad, I would recommend doing so as the experience changes you for the better."
In the summer of 2015, while serving as McGeorge's DC Fellow, Michael spent 10 weeks studying Veterans Law and working for Chief Judge Lawrence B. Hagel of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
"I drafted one memorandum decision where I helped adjudicate a veteran's claim for benefits, two single judge Equal Access to Justice Act cases where I helped determine whether the award of attorney's fees was appropriate and in what amount, four dispositive orders, and fourteen non-dispositive orders," said Michael.
Michael notes that Chief Judge Hagel arranged for him to be present at the Supreme Court during the Obamacare decision and encouraged him to take advantage of all the learning opportunities available in Washington, from going to museums, to sitting in on Veterans Court mediation sessions, to hearing oral arguments on two separate occasions at the Federal Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The experience was transformative, and Michael now dreams of working at the Department of State as a diplomat after finishing his law degree. "But any government job in DC will suit me just fine. I just want to prove that you don't have to be in litigation to be a capable attorney," he said. "If nothing else, my time in DC was instrumental for my Comment on Law Review."
Michael's article, Justice Should Not Be a Lottery: An examination of hearing loss cases at the Veterans Court, 48 U. Pac. L. Rev. 139 (2016) appeared in The University of the Pacific Law Review (UPLR). In the article he analyzes hearing loss disability cases from 2008-2015 that have similar fact patterns but disparate outcomes, focusing on two cases from 2015 that were decided within a week of each other using the same facts, same law and same attorneys but resulted in completely different results.
In February 2017 Michael will be heading to San Diego Comic Fest competing against fellow McGeorge student Sylvia La Rosa, '17, in a hearing regarding mutant rights.
Why Law School?
Before coming to McGeorge, Michael's career path started at UCLA, where he had to drop out before finishing his degree due to circumstances beyond his control, and wound up working for the US Postal Service, before technology made his job obsolete. In the time he was waiting for a transfer to mail service, Michael took what was supposed to be a temporary office job with the Tulare County Public Defender, before the Great Recession hit and hiring at the Post Office was put on indefinite hold.
For six years, Michael worked in the Public Defender's Juvenile and Adult divisions and handled all sorts of criminal cases ranging from petty theft to murders and sex crimes. "I got exposure to the law and the system in general. I used to put new attorneys through their paces, walking them through office and court procedure, and one day I was asked by one of my attorneys why I wasn't doing attorney work," said Michael. "Frankly, I didn't have a good answer, but that conversation started me down the path of going to law school."
McGeorge accepted Michael's admission application and offered him financial aid and was willing, says Michael, "to take a chance on someone with a colorful background. I was in my early 30's and I was afraid that the window to try to become a lawyer had closed. It was scary. I didn't like my old job but it paid the bills. But I figured if I was going to become a lawyer, there wasn't any room for doubt."
Michael's advice for others considering law school? Put yourself out there and do your best.
"It hasn't been easy but the fact that someone of my background has made a way into earning an impressive academic record, a bunch of extracurricular honors, and a position on the Law Review show me (and hopefully others) that law school, particularly this one, is worth as much as you want it to be if you put the effort in. Everyone assumes that I have this master plan, but honestly, I just do the best with what I have earned so far and ask for help when I am lost along the way. Everyone else remembers the successes, but the setbacks are what I have learned the most from," he said.