Pro Bono Perspective: Court with a Client
Pro bono attorney Amanda Russo, co-counsel with pro bono attorney Claudia Torres, both of Goodwin Procter LLP, describes the experience of their momentous first court appearance with their client, Edinson*
It was a crisp May morning in the historic downtown of Ellicott City. After making the drive from Washington, D.C. early that morning, we climbed the last few miles up the winding road leading us to the old Howard County courthouse. When we finally arrived, we proceeded through the courthouse doors and down its hallways to meet Edinson and his uncle. This was my first time appearing in court, so naturally my nerves grew with every step we took closer to the courtroom. Then, there they were, so positive and always smiling.
For months, we had been anxiously awaiting this day. That was because today was the day that would determine whether Edinson would be able to continue on the path to pursuing his U.S. citizenship. Today was the day that would determine whether the countless hours we spent in preparation for this moment would finally pay off. Today was the day we got to tell Edinson’s story.
We sat down on the old courtroom benches and patiently waited for our case to be called. Then, we were up. We made sure to reiterate to Edinson that this was his chance to shine—be sure to speak up, we said, it’ll be just like we practiced. And it was just like we practiced. Edinson’s direct examination flowed seamlessly, while the judge listened intently and asked a few questions of his own. And when Edinson’s uncle took the stand, it was the same thing.
At the conclusion of the testimony and my brief closing argument, the judge made his decision. The court first granted Edinson’s uncle’s petition for guardianship, making him Edinson’s sole legal guardian. Then, came the moment for which we had all been waiting; the court made each of the requisite special findings that would enable Edinson to petition the federal government for SIJS. Hearing the court’s ruling, I couldn’t help but beam with pride because, after all, I had just successfully completed my first hearing! But, as I turned around, I saw the truer reward, the smile and hope on Edinson’s face—which, in that moment, made the countless hours, tireless preparation, and the restless nerves all worth it.