UA Law Students Win Superior Court Case
One law school faculty member supervised two of his students to win a recent felony trial case.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
Oct. 19, 2007

It was a University of Arizona law professor and two of his students who went on to receive accolades after winning a recent Pima County Superior Court trial that involved 19 felony counts.

It is not common for law school students to participate in trials – especially not a jury trial and one with such complexity. Misdemeanor clinics are more typical.

Yet UA James E. Rogers College of Law students Karen E. Komrada and Gregory D. Gills Jr. were able to win the case, under the supervision of Gabriel J. Chin, Chester H. Smith professor of law.

Jose Angel Diaz-Quintero, who was arrested in June 2006, was found guilty of faking identification documents, namely Social Security and permanent resident cards.

At the end of the three-day trial earlier this month, Diaz-Quintero was found guilty of providing undercover Arizona Fraudulent Identification Task Force agents with falsified documents. He now faces more than 40 years in prison.

“It was pretty tough. I worked pretty much all day,” said Gills, a third-year student who gave the closing statement. “But if this is what you intend to do, what better practice than having an actual trial? It was a good case.”

Chin said he often had to refrain from jumping in. “I had to resist the temptation.

The students really were outstanding,” said Chin, who also served as a special assistant attorney general during the case.

“They were excellent and skilled beyond their years,” he said. “When they put on their suits, they weren’t students, but lawyers.”

Komrada and Gills took on the case because of their involvement with the Arizona Attorney General Clinic and worked together to choose the jury members, cross-examine witnesses and provide opening and closing statements.

The clinic requires a yearlong commitment and allows students to work on investigations, cases and in other issues related to white-collar crime, elder abuse and financial fraud.

Students also learn about the criminal justice system, ethics and lawyering and have the chance to write indictments, practice in plea negotiations, interview witnesses, review legal documents, conduct research and work with investigators.

“It’s pretty unusual and I think it’s something special,” Chin said. “I absolutely love it because I think there is intensity, an engagement, a reality."

That's the type of work that becomes difficult to duplicate in a classroom setting.

“We’re working on real cases with real problems up against real lawyers. If we do a C-plus job, we’re going to pay for it in court, and that’s painful," Chin said.

“The students put their best effort in because they’re dealing with real victims and real defendants. It’s a significant responsibility to do excellent work,” he said. "They’re not just given instruction on some discrete task to execute. The most important thing is that they’re encouraged to think about what the appropriate course of action is along the way.”

And, in this setting, they are working with some of the stronger and more experienced lawyers in the field, which helps the students build experience and legal judgment.

The clinic was initiated several years ago after conversations with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard on ways the law college could provide enhanced learning and public service to its students, he said.

Chin also said it is critical that students not only get clinical training on the side of the defense, but also as prosecutors.

“If you defend a case, you can defend better. And if you prosecute a case, you can prosecute better – if you understand how your adversary thinks, that’s great,” Chin said. “This is what makes you a better lawyer. A sophisticated and a really well-trained lawyer will need to have a broad range of experiences.”

Komrada said she walked away from the trail realizing that this is the type of work she would like to do professionally and is eagerly anticipating the next trial.

“I loved every minute of it,” said Komrada, a third-year student, who provided the opening statement. It should also be a great help to her professional, post-graduation work, she said.

“Most new attorneys do misdemeanors for a while, and then they get to felonies,” Komrada said. “I haven’t even graduated law school yet and we won all 19 counts. That was huge.”