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From the President

Emy’s Journey

By Luis J. Rodriguez
President, State Bar of California

Luis RodriquezLate last year, I wrote about Emanuel G., or “Emy,” a 10-year-old Latino student from a tiny school in Woody, Calif., and his mentor, Bakersfield attorney Jeanne Rubin. I had met with them for lunch so Emy could interview me for his presentation on Gideon vs. Wainwright, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case granting indigent criminal defendants the right to appointed counsel. Emy was gathering information for a research project to submit to the National History Day Competition, and he sought me out when he heard I am the first Latino president of the State Bar.

As I previously wrote, it was a memorable lunch. Although the three of us did not talk long, the conversation represented so many good things about our profession. Ms. Rubin had committed herself to mentoring Emy not only to help him prepare for the state competition but also to provide him with a positive role model. Emy represented the hope that we see in our youth. Both were prime examples of the value of civics education.

But others contributed to Emy’s research project. With the help of State Bar Trustee David Torres, Emy was able to interview Kern County Superior Court Judge Robert Tafoya and Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green. And with Ms. Rubin’s help, Emy was also able to track down and interview Professor Bruce Jacob, who argued the Gideon case for the State of Florida in the Supreme Court. They are all prime examples of what is good about the legal profession.

Ms. Rubin had kept me well informed of the progress of Emy’s project in the competition. In March, Emy won his age division at the Kern County History Day, which made him the county’s representative to the statewide competition in April. For the next few weeks, I have to admit that I was anxious in wondering how Emy—a child from a tiny school with only eight students—was going to fare.

Finally, April rolled around, and the state competition was held in Riverside at the end of that month. On April 28, I received an email from Emy. During the first round of the 26 state finalists, only eight moved on to the final round, and Emy was one of them.

The next day was the final round, and the odds were long. As they announced the winners, Emy wrote me: “The first kid who won was Ryan P. and the other champion was a kid named Emanuel G. who was ME!!!!” The fifth grader from a tiny school in central California tied for statewide champion!

So what does this have to do with our profession? A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a well-respected politician who also happens to be an attorney. As we were discussing the need to provide more access to justice for everyone through our courts, the elected official also mentioned frustration in dealing with negative impressions of lawyers as unethical, as con-artists, or as unconcerned with the good of the community. The official talked about the great work lawyers do, but the terrible job we do conveying that members of our profession generally are positive role models and active in the community.

The story of Jeanne Rubin and Emy is but one example of what makes our profession honorable.