Photo by Dave Lauridsen.
There is a weightlessness to Morgan Chu, wise and exuberant all at once. Perhaps that’s fitting for someone whose life has been not so much about defying expectations as disregarding them entirely.
He essentially failed high school on purpose. He was on his path to becoming a professional student when he met Helen, now his wife, whose diplomat father was not sure this kinetic young man could ever settle down. He earned five degrees by the time he was 25: from UCLA, a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.; an M.S.L. from Yale; and a J.D. in two years from Harvard Law School. He joined Irell & Manella after a self-designed spring clerkship and could not choose litigation or transaction so worked full-time for both departments.
And that is how you get to be one of the foremost intellectual property lawyers in the United States. The longtime chairman of Los Angeles’ Irell & Manella is noted for his huge wins for City of Hope, TiVo and Texas Instruments, his philanthropy, and his pathbreaking career as one of the first Asian-American partners in a major U.S. law firm.
Morgan and his similarly regaled brothers, Steven and Gilbert, broke the mold with achievement, but whereas his brothers’ paths were in science and medicine – fields where Asian-Americans had made more of a mark, Morgan chose law. We talked to him earlier this year about the influences that led to his magical, marvelous career.
Lawdragon: So much has been written about you and your brothers. Your oldest brother, Gilbert, is a professor of biology and chemistry at Stanford, while your middle brother, Steven, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, and was the Secretary of Energy under President Obama. What was it like at your dinner table? Did your parents give nightly quizzes on chemistry?
Morgan Chu: Nope. This does sound strange to many people and I never thought about it growing up.
I knew my brothers, who are both far more talented, much smarter than I am, how good they are. After my mother passed away a couple years ago we had a little memorial and each of my brothers spoke and then I spoke. I said, “Contrary to what a lot of people might think, our mother was not a tiger mother, in any way, shape or form.” Our father wasn’t a tiger father. I said, “I don’t remember either of them ever telling me or to my knowledge ever telling my brothers what to do. I don’t remember their telling me to do my homework. There were times I did my homework and there were times I didn’t. Or that I had to do this or that or putting pressure on me, formally or informally, in any way. I just did what I wanted to do.
Both of my brothers agreed. I’ve often thought that sometimes little things are really big things. To some extent, almost everyone in the United States – certainly anyone born in the United States – has won a lottery of some kind because of how much better we are in terms of everything imaginable compared to if we had been born in “fill in the blank,” where most of the world’s population is poor. That was just very, very lucky.
LD: You grew up in New York – were born there, lived in Kew Gardens, Queens and Garden City before moving to Southern California when you were in high school. What did your mom and dad do?
MC: My father was a chemical engineer and he taught at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. My mom mostly took care of three kids. Then she would also get part-time jobs. An example would be a part-time job running a cash register at Abraham & Straus, which was a department store. She would do that but I didn’t realize at the time that she had gone to college and how startling that is. Because you have to think back to being a woman in China and going to college, graduating from college, was not the normal course.
My father went to MIT for graduate school; that’s where he got his doctorate. My mother, when she met up with my father in the U.S., she enrolled in graduate school at MIT. They got married and started a family so she dropped out of graduate school. The great bulk of that I didn’t know growing up because she didn’t say anything; my father wouldn’t say anything. She was a mom who was good at making Chinese food and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and earning a little extra money at A&S.
LD: And your parents were both born in China.
MC: That’s right. They grew up there and came to the U.S. as young adults when they were in their 20s. It was in the middle of World War II and most of their families were not able to leave China. My mother was one of five kids; she was the only one who was able to leave China. My father was one of eleven; he and two of his sisters were able to leave China.
It wasn’t necessarily easy leaving China. My mother actually went to India as a young lady to try and find a way to come to the United States. She had to wait to get aboard a freighter because there’s a war going on and there are Japanese submarines and they will sink any ship; they’ll sink freighters. She waited three months; she gets aboard a freighter in India and they go very far south to try and avoid Japanese submarines. She ends up getting to the United States and then getting on a train to the East coast. She and my father had known each other earlier. They get together and then eventually they get married.
LD: Did it have any resonance to you that you are Chinese-American as you progressed through law school and then into a law firm?
MC: Of course, because well, there weren’t any other Asian-Americans at Irell & Manella. That was largely true in corporate law firms. There were far fewer Asian faces in prominence in practicing law. I was also aware of the fact that quite naturally people perceive other people based on their experiences or generalizations or stereotypes.
A way to capture this is someone I worked with, who is a client, after we got to know each other and we were having lunch one day. He says, “Morgan, you’re not at all what I expect you to be like.” Now, we were very friendly. We enjoyed working with each other. I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I thought you’d be timid and you’re not timid. I thought you would not be aggressive enough; meaning intellectually or trying to stake out a position or trying to move the ball forward.”
He didn’t mean being loud or boisterous. He said, “But you’re incredibly aggressive with everything.” He went on and on, basically telling me a list of stereotypes that many people have about Asians; most of which do not match what a client wants from their lawyer. I realized that – not just with him but other people growing up in life – people might have what we can call generalizations or stereotypes. I was very aware of that and thought, ‘Well, okay. The only way to change that in terms of how people view me is just to be myself and not to do things that I think counteract that stereotype.”
Once in a while I see a young lawyer trying to be loud or foulmouthed. As if that makes them tough, which it doesn’t. It makes them seem as if, to me, they lack confidence in themselves. I realized that there would be those kinds of natural things to overcome in practicing law. But everyone has things to overcome. Everyone has some advantages and disadvantages no matter what they do.
LD: You’re very involved with Harvard Law School, and on the visiting committee of the Business School at Harvard, and you are looked at as a leader who carved new paths. Is that your message when you go speak to organizations like the Asian-Pacific American Law Students?
MC: A core message to any group of young lawyers or law students is be yourself. I was a ski bum, I liked playing cards, had a world record of taking every New York subway line. Maybe a bit precocious.
LD: At the time you got your master’s from Yale and enrolled at Harvard, what was your plan for your law degree?
MC: When I went to law school and when I went to Harvard I didn’t have in mind that I would be a lawyer, much less being a lawyer in private practice. Once I was at school, I noticed in the fall that people were getting dressed up and I asked them about it.
My classmates said, “Oh, people are interviewing for law firms.” Of course, it became clear that they’re interviewing with corporate law firms. I shrugged my shoulders and weeks peeled by. I had no interest in interviewing. Finally, I said, “Well, maybe I should wander to the placement office because it seems like everyone is doing this.” I looked at information about law firms; the law firm resumes all read alike. And then I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll sign up for a couple of these empty slots just to see what it’s like.’ And one of the early interviews was from someone who was a senior partner at a very well-known New York firm.
He said, “What area of law do you want to practice?” He said, “We have mergers and acquisitions; corporate; tax; international tax; trust and estate; litigation.” I said, “Well, I’m not even sure I want to practice law, much less practice law at a corporate law firm let alone practice in a particular area of a corporate firm. So, I don’t know.”
And he looked just absolutely dumbfounded and, of course, I realize now how odd my answer seemed to be. You have to keep in mind I wasn’t thinking of working for a corporate law firm; I was just trying to learn more about them and why everyone was interviewing them.
LD: So you were studying law firms?
MC: I was curious. I was just interested in finding out what was going on and why people seemed so interested in interviewing for these jobs.
LD: Why did you go to law school?
MC: I just thought I would learn something about the law and would learn more about it. I thought it was an interesting subject and I had been, in part, on a career of being a professional student. That’s what Helen would say, that’s what her father told Helen. I probably could have been a student literally for the rest of my life and enjoyed it.
Universities have wonderful things. They tend to have very nice settings; whether they’re in a city or outside of a city. They have film festivals, old movies. They have interesting speakers in all areas with many different points of view. There’s always a renewal aspect; always new students coming onto campus. New ideas. They don’t focus just on one thing; there are people who have great expertise in archaeology or art history or a thousand other subjects. They also have wonderful athletic facilities and they have gyms and swimming pools and sporting events so what’s not to like about being part of a university? And what’s not to like about being a professional student?
LD: And I understand you never really endured life as a 1L?
MC: That’s right. I had obtained graduate degrees from UCLA, and so I enrolled in Yale, and thought I would learn about the law, but also other things. New Haven wasn’t really what Helen and I expected, so when I was thinking about maybe learning some more law I was also thinking about teaching or doing other things.
I ultimately decided, well, maybe I’ll learn some more law because I think that’s fun. You notice this is a way to extend my time, officially, as a student – so it had that benefit. I wrote to Harvard and said, “What do you think about admitting me as a second-year student?” They said, “Okay.” Then, when I showed up I think I went to the registrar’s office and I said, “How do I sign up for courses?” I explained that I hadn’t been officially a first-year student anywhere and I said, “I might like to take a first-year course or two but I don’t want to just take first-year courses and I want to do some other things.” This person said, “Well, go see your class advisor and just get your class advisor to sign off and that’s it.”
One of the benefits of being at a very large school is there’s one professor who’s the advisor for the entire class. I’d figured out what courses I wanted to take. I wanted to take the basic criminal law class, which was a first-year course, and then I decided not to take other first-year courses. I had other courses that were being offered in that first semester that I wanted to take. I explained in twenty seconds to the professor and he said, “Okay, I’ll sign it.” And that was that.
LD: So 1L done with. Can I assume you have a similarly novel path to how you joined Irell?
MC: I began thinking, ‘Well, gosh. I might want to have a job.’ I thought about other firms. By then I’m learning about law firms from lawyers there; other people who are summer associates at different firms who were friends of mine from law school. Now, people are chatting about things they know something about because they have first-hand experience instead of rumor and speculation.
Of course, Irell & Manella was very well known so I sent a letter and interviewed here and enjoyed everyone I met. I thought, ‘Well, that’s really interesting but in a day’s interviewing one doesn’t really know a lot about a firm, as a whole.’ Because everyone, including myself, we’re all on our best behavior. They said, “Well, come back later in the fall. Bring the wife if she can come. Visit us again; you can do it any time. But you have an offer.”
I visited later in the fall and I had the same experience. I liked everyone I met but I asked myself, “How do I really know what it’s like?” So I thought about it a bit more and it’s December, and I called up someone at Irell and said, “I was thinking about the following. What if I was a spring clerk?” See, there were summer clerks, now called summer associates, and I thought, ‘Why does it have to be in the summer?’
They said, “Spring clerk? What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I’m thinking that I would just play hooky for several weeks in the spring and come out, work with you as if it was the summer but instead of being a summer clerk I’ll be a spring clerk.” That was my solution to figuring out what the firm was like on a daily basis.
I could stay late at night and I supposed I’d be unhappy if it was too crowded at 1:30 a.m. I could come in on the weekends. And I supposed I would’ve been unhappy if everybody went home at 6 p.m. and there was no one here on a Saturday. I could interact with people, see what the firm was like on a daily basis. People here said, “Gosh. No one’s ever done that before.”
LD: Of course not.
MC: “… but it’s okay with us if you want to do it.” That’s what I did and after getting to know the firm a whole lot better in the spring, I said, “Well, if I’m going to practice law, this is the place for me.”
LD: Once you arrived at Irell, you were a full-time associate for both the litigation department and the corporate department for three years, but you ultimately chose litigation. Is there a case that stands out as your big break?
MC: The standout was a case for Mattel, the toy maker. I had done some other work for Mattel, both transactional work and some litigation work. The litigation work related to securities cases where we were representing Mattel as a defendant in various kinds of transactions. There was an ongoing case, and it turns out it’s a patent case, where existing counsel for Mattel was being disqualified because of a conflict of interest but the case was halfway to trial by the time that conflict was getting resolved in the courts.
The general counsel, unbeknownst to me – because I am a very, very young lawyer at the time – talks to the senior people here and says, “My current counsel is getting disqualified. I want Morgan to handle this case.” I had been practicing law for just about one year so I am very wet behind the ears. I barely know what I’m doing on a daily basis.
The senior people here, they didn’t consult with me. They told the general counsel, “We’re sorry, we can’t do that because first of all, Morgan doesn’t know anything about patent law and we don’t have any lawyer here that knows anything about patent law. Second, Morgan doesn’t know anything about the technology and we don’t have anyone here who knows anything about the technology. So, we can’t possibly take it on.” Oh, wise response by a law firm.
The general counsel was insistent. He said, “Well, I have a pretty big, in-house legal department of patent lawyers. I’m going to assign some of them to this case to help Morgan learn patent law and I’m going to hire outside patent counsel with litigation experience to work with Morgan and I’m going to hire technical consultants so he’ll learn the technology but I wanted him to take the lead role on the case.”
Finally, the senior people here relented because anything that was new to me I thought would be great fun. Turned out it was great fun. The case, from the time I got involved to the time it went to trial, it was probably about eight months or so. I spent a lot of time and energy learning patent law; learning the technology; learning how to be a better litigator. Learning how to make and defend against many, many motions.
Our library then and now was terrific. I went and talked to them and I said, “Help me find what are the best books that I can read.” There wasn’t a 400-page, single-volume book that says, “Here are the basics of patent law” or a book with a yellow cover that said, “Patent Law for Dummies.” It would have been my purchase.
What I learned from the most was a multi-volume treatise, Chisum on Patents. I decided that because there weren’t really handy books to learn the law that I would open volume one and usually at night I would read it until I was too tired and then I’d go to sleep. Of course, the next morning I’d be working on the case and then I’d just pick up where I left off until I finished the entire treatise. Well, it’s as good a way to learn as any, isn’t it?
LD: How did the case turn out?
MC: It turned out very well, which I attribute that to good luck. The evening before our opening statement I’m thinking through the details; not so much as what I would say because I probably knew that, but details such as where do I stand. I realized I’d never seen a real trial. I’d seen Perry Mason on television but I’d never seen a real trial. I thought, ‘I don’t know where to stand in the courtroom.”
I called some senior people here that evening and they said, “Oh, there’s the well and there’s the podium in federal court. You can always ask the judge but here, typically, is what happens.” We went to trial; we were the alleged infringer. We won at trial, went up on appeal and we won on appeal.
LD: You made that general counsel look really good. Did he ever tell you why he was so insistent on you?
MC: He said he had a lot of confidence in me and that I would do a great job. I’m not sure that was well placed because I was so junior and so inexperienced but like a lot of things in life it turned out very well. Certainly, it turned out well for me. I was very lucky to have that opportunity.
LD: What other cases do you consider the most representative or meaningful of your career?
MC: Representing the City of Hope was very meaningful for everyone here, including myself.
On every dimension it was a meaningful case primarily because of the people at City of Hope and their dedication to what they do. They were founded by a group of people who were not well-to-do in 1913, I think. There was a fellow who was a tailor, a garment worker. He died of tuberculosis in the streets. In the early 1900s tuberculosis existed in the United States and if you had a lot of money you could get treated. If you were middle class or working class it was very hard to get treatment. This fellow passes away because he couldn’t get treatment and his neighbors passed around the hat. They said, “Let’s take up a collection so we can send his remains home to his family in St. Louis.”
They did that and then they passed the hat around again and said, “This shouldn’t happen again. Let’s do something.” They had $136.05, I believe. They found a little piece of parched land in the desert, in Duarte, California and they had enough money to buy two cots and a tent. Then they had people with medical training who volunteered and they would treat people with tuberculosis. They didn’t ask a penny from anyone. They went year after year just passing the hat around, accepting contributions and treating people. Then they began to grow very slightly and this was true through the ’20s, the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s.
Then, by the later ’60s and ’70s medical care had gotten more expensive. Up until that time, they weren’t taking money from the patients; they were living off of contributions. They then began to take money from insurance companies and patients, of course; the cost of healthcare was rising. But they had a view that if they had a bed and they could help someone they would admit that person no questions asked.
When I started working with them there were some simple things that in today’s world may seem unbelievable. I asked them questions about what kinds of litigation they’d had in the past. One thing I learned through the entire history of the City of Hope, they never sued a patient for a bill. I don’t think that’s true of hospitals today. If anything, one reads too often about this hospital and that hospital that have abusive bill collectors and bring suits where they’ve overcharged the patient and the patient’s family and they added lots of fees. The dedication level of the people at City of Hope is just unbelievable.
I’ll tell you another little side story; you get an idea of the flavor of the people there. City of Hope, one could think of it as having two major parts. There’s the hospital or clinic that treats patients and then there is the research side. On the research side I put their graduate school of biological sciences; it’s more complex than just two parts. They work very well closely together. When I started working for the City of Hope, the fellow who was the head of the hospital was going to be a witness for us in the case we brought against Genentech. (City of Hope sued Genentech for failure to pay its fair share of profits for human insulin produced based on research by two City of Hope researchers.)
I’d met him on a Sunday here at the office and he’s wearing a suit. I said, “Oh, you didn’t have to come and wear a suit on Sunday.” He said, “Oh, I was meeting with some potential donors in City of Hope earlier this morning and after I’m through here I’m going to see patients at the City of Hope.”
He’s in charge of the entire hospital. I said, “Seeing patients? How do you do that?” He said he’d always been a practicing physician even as he began to take administrator jobs. When he’d come to City of Hope he had written into his contract that he would have the right always to see patients. His area of specialty was pediatric oncology.
As I learned more about kids having cancer he told me for the first couple decades as a practicing physician he knew two things about every one of his patients. One thing is everyone would die of cancer and the other is he’d have to tell their parents. I said, “How can you do that?” He said, “Well, I just thought I could be good at it; that we could keep working at it. That research would lead to better and better treatments.”
LD: He sounds remarkable.
MC: There’s more. I’m telling this to someone else at City of Hope and this person says, “You don’t know anything about what he and his wife do.” I said, “Well, I already know enough.” He says, “They have a dozen adopted children, all of them with severe handicaps; most of them from outside the United States.” He and his wife are just absolute saints.
He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He didn’t tell me about all the adopted kids. Later, as I got to know him better and better I said, “How do you do it? How do you do things in the morning?” He says, “Well, we have a routine,” and his wife takes care of a certain set of kids and she’s as physician and a researcher. One day he said, “She’s out of town.” I said, “How do you do it?” He says, “Well, I can take care of all of the kids in the morning by myself and I have them help each other.” I said, “What do you do?” “For someone older, I say ‘Erica, can you help Johnny screw his leg on.'” I said, “Is that your normal morning?” He says, “That’s every morning so it’s no big thing. That’s what they do.”
LD: It must have been very meaningful to be able to help City of Hope. You won a $500M verdict against Genentech, which ultimately paid $480M to settle the case. And the compensatory damages portion upheld by the California Supreme Court was the largest damage award ever affirmed by it?
MC: That’s right. It was a special case for us in many ways – everyone at the firm felt that way. There was a legal assistant I’d worked with a lot and she’d been retired six or eight years. Right before the case goes to trial, she calls me and says, “I’ve heard from other people that you’re going to trial for City of Hope. I’m calling to wish you good luck and I just really want you to win. This is such a special case.”
She tells me about the fact that her daughter had cancer and had gone to City of Hope and had been treated. My friend, the pediatric oncologist, told me later that the first couple decades was a time when all the kids who got cancer, they all passed away. He said it’s very different today.
That is, kids are much more resilient than adults and the great bulk of them recover quite nicely from many kinds of cancer and are able to live a very long and healthy lives. There is a good story to the tremendous progress that we make. Everyone on the team felt the same way and everyone at the firm felt the same way. They’re cheering us on with a greater degree of enthusiasm than they normally would and always do for any case. But this was special because of the people, if we were successful, that we could help.
LD: And you did?
MC: With some ups and downs along the way. We actually had two trials because we had a hung jury in the first trial. That felt like a huge loss when you’re the plaintiff and you have a hung jury. We had the second trial in early 2002.
LD: Do you still represent City of Hope?
MC: Yes, on a wide variety of different things. I’m very much in touch with them. They’re a big part of the lives of people at Irell & Manella. We have, as an example, a quilting group which includes many people on our staff who have since retired over the years and they get together in the evenings and weekends to make quilts. Quite a number of years ago they said, “Why don’t we make quilts and take them to City of Hope and give them to patients?” Every year they do that.
We also had a member of our staff a number of years ago pass away. She’d been a secretary at the firm for quite a number of years and she was single. She had a much larger estate than what one would imagine. After she passed away she gave the great bulk of her estate to City of Hope. She never said anything about it. There was a nurses’ station at City of Hope that’s named after her.
I think we may be the only law firm with the distinction that a graduate school is named after us. It’s today the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences at the City of Hope. It’s a PH.D granting institution. The graduate school had been in existence for a couple decades and we made a contribution to create an endowment.
LD: You seem to have a history of saying with everything you approach, “Okay, this is how it’s done but what if we did it this way?” It seems true of the firm, too.
MC: Yes, yes. Everyone said, “Hey, it’s not only we like to win but we really like to win in a special way for all the people at City of Hope.” Not only by being successful with legal matters but it’s also special to us so that people are happy to contribute, whether it’s financial contributions and other ways as well.
LD: You’re also noted for your philanthropy and commitment to public service. You’re the longest-serving board member of Public Counsel, endowed with $5M the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean’s Professorship at Harvard Law School. And, I understand, you were fired by a client you got off death row.
MC: The death-row case went on for six years. Only volunteers worked on it. Some of the volunteers were actually in favor of the death penalty and particularly at that time the death penalty seemed to have charged emotions on both sides of the debate, for understandable reasons.
I and others always thought – including people who were in favor of the death penalty – that it was very important to have everyone, especially people who are on death row, represented by decent counsel. We got involved because the then Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Malcolm Lucas, had called me up and said, “How would you like to represent someone in a death penalty case?” I said, “Well, first I have to think about it and talk to people here but my individual, quick answer is you’re asking and so my answer’s going to be yes.”
He said, “But I should tell you a few things about it. The defendant’s already been convicted of first-degree murder and there was a finding of special circumstances and he was given the death penalty.”
“Okay,” I said, and he continued. “And the California Supreme Court has already affirmed it. So, how would you like to take the case on?” I said, “You’re asking. My answer’s still yes. Of course, you know that’s not the kind of work I do so I have to learn a lot.”
After a conviction is upheld by the California Supreme Court one can seek relief through habeas corpus in the state courts and then after that in the federal courts. So that’s what we did and for most of the time we were outstanding failures because as we went through the state system we lost everything hands down.
LD: Did that change once you got to federal court?
MC: In the federal system, we suddenly began to win some things. Then, finally we won on getting the conviction reversed, the special circumstance reversed, as well as the death penalty reversed, and had it upheld by the 9th Circuit. We thought that the Supreme Court, which was a very conservative court at the time, would overturn it but it didn’t do so. That was very satisfying.
What the state does at that point, by the way, as an epilogue is they don’t actually release the defendant. The state has a choice of retrying the person or releasing. Of course, the state decided that it would retry him. I’m using “funny” in an ironic sense here; a double epilogue. We hadn’t done the real trial and I went to the person we represented once we knew that we had this complete reversal and all the court proceedings were done. I said, “We accepted the appointment through this point in time. But we thought about it a lot and we’re willing to represent you pro bono at your retrial. And because I don’t have any death penalty trial experience and it’s important that we have someone, I’ve already secured the agreement; someone very experienced who will work with us closely.”
As the days peeled by for the court hearing he just couldn’t make up his mind. I went to the holding pen the morning of the court hearing and spoke to him and he still couldn’t make up his mind. When we got into court and he’s brought out by the guards, I whispered to him. He still couldn’t make up his mind!
One has to realize that he and many other people have the most horrific life circumstances. Now, many of them had done very bad things in their life; no question about that. But many of them are distrusting of everyone and anything that is in shouting distance of something that seems like the establishment. The presiding judge announces the case and says how it got there. The courtroom is very crowded with 80 to 100 lawyers. Everyone takes notice because you don’t get many cases coming back from the Supreme Court and a reversal of the death penalty. It’s the first one that was a complete reversal on all issues upheld through the Supreme Court.
Finally, the judge asked the defendant, “I understand Mr. Chu and his firm along with co-counsel are willing to represent you on a pro bono basis for the retrial. Do you have a decision? Do you accept that?” He stands up and he says, “I do,” and he’s going to decline.
Everyone in the courtroom is dumbfounded. I didn’t know what he was going to say but I expected that was a possibility. And so that was the end of our hearing. I’m leaving the courtroom and a whole bunch of people whom I don’t know but are lawyers there stop me and say, “Boy, what happened? Why is that?”
I said, “Well, he has a distrust of the system but I should say that this is the first time in my professional career where we got the best result possible. There could not have been any complaint about the amount of fees and I got fired.”
LD: That’s crazy. I assume he got convicted again.
MC: He decided to represent himself on the retrial and he was convicted.
LD: So what are you working on these days?
MC: Oh, boy. All kinds of things. Let me describe first a picture. People have read about tens of thousands of kids coming across the U.S. border and they frequently are traveling many hundreds of miles by themselves from Latin America, from awful conditions that are physically dangerous and impoverished and where there appears to be no future. These are kids who hate to leave their families but they do.
They get on trains or they find their way coming north through Mexico and they come to the U.S. border. And then they get picked up by border agents. Then, they’re put into one aspect of our legal system, so picture a room with an immigration judge with legal training and knowledge about immigration law.
On one side of the room is a lawyer who’s an advocate, who wants to send 14-year-old Mary home to Latin America. And she sits in that room by herself. The question is what’s wrong with this system?
LD: So much.
MC: She may not speak English; she has no idea what the American legal system is, much less any knowledge about U.S. immigration law. There are many things wrong with that system. We’ve taken on some cases through Public Counsel. It’s a big group effort. That’s some of what we’re working on.
LD: Is there anything left in your career that you haven’t accomplished that you want to?
MC: Every new case, every new matter is a good challenge so it’s not as if I view the world the way mountain climbers would. Sometimes people say, “I would like to climb the three tallest peaks in the world or the tallest peak on every one of the seven continents.” No, no. Every case is a potential challenge where one can win or lose and hopefully have a good time along the way. I’m just looking for that next case and they’re always there. They’re always coming.