Create Change – Winter 2022

Executive Director's message

Be the change you wish to see in the world . . . – Gandhi

Anna Wang - Photo by Christine Baker-Parrish

Happy New Year! I hope each of you was able to take some time to recharge and celebrate the holidays. 2022 is here and I’m sure we are all hoping that this year will be kinder and gentler to us all.

We start this Winter quarter separated from one another as students are taking classes virtually for the first two weeks given the surge in Omicron cases. Thus, it feels a little bit like we’re back in early 2021. Yet we did have some moments of normalcy this past quarter, including a wonderful in-person community-building event with 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls mingling in Cooley Courtyard. See photos below. It was a delight to hear the lively chatter and laughter as many of our public interest students finally met one another in person.

We had hoped to host another large student event early this quarter but are waiting for safer conditions. The plan had also been to offer our annual Fall Public Service Awards in February 2022 but we canceled it given the surge. In the meantime, we are moving forward with some virtual workshops and information sessions. Students should check the Weekly Digest or the Levin Center event calendar for information about upcoming events. If you have questions, please reach out to Chelsea Jones, our Program Manager.

I’m also thrilled to share a profile on Gabriel Martínez, BA ’05/JD ’10, a Deputy Attorney General with the California Attorney General’s Civil Rights Enforcement section. After graduating from SLS, Gab has dedicated his career to public service where he has upheld the rights of transgender individuals, protected consumers, and challenged a proposed agency rule denying benefits to anyone living with an undocumented immigrant. Read more below about how he has used policy and the law to advance justice.

There is also a new feature we hope to include in every issue of Create Change: a section to highlight our SLS Public Interest alumni in the news. Please forward me news of elections, appointments, new jobs, or any other news you’d like to share with the SLS community.

In other news, I want to remind young alumni and graduating students about our upcoming February 16, 2022 deadline for the 2022-2023 SLS Postgraduate Public Interest fellowships. Please reach out to a Levin Center advisor for support on your application.

Finally, we welcome back Shafaq Khan from her parental leave. The Levin Center is fully staffed once again with five career advisors. Titi, Mike, Diane, Shafaq, and I look forward to connecting with students and any alumni seeking career guidance. Please reach out anytime!


Gabriel Martínez, BA '05/JD '10, Fights Injustice As a Government Lawyer

Nikki Márquez, BA ’05/JD ’15 and Gabriel Martínez, BA ’05/JD ’10, pose with their children, Diego and Elián.

Gabriel Martínez, BA ’05/JD ’10, has spent his legal career in government service, including working for all three branches of the federal government. For the past three years, Martínez has been a Deputy Attorney General with the California Attorney General’s Civil Rights Enforcement section.

Martínez shares, “For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be involved in social justice. I credit my parents for that—at a young age my mom taking me to protest for increased public education spending and my dad taking me to protest for living wages with the United Farm Workers. In high school, my brother, Sierra [also an SLS alumnus, class of 2008], took me to an ACLU youth program that I ended up being involved with throughout high school, and that really shaped my view of being able to use the law to fight injustice. My interests were broad, and I hoped that law school would give me the tools for a career in public interest, whatever that might end up looking like.”

After graduating from Stanford University with his BA in Political Science, Martínez worked as a legal assistant at a large firm and then at Google before returning to Stanford for law school in 2007. Martínez states, “I chose SLS because of the amazing community that SLS has built. The smaller size allowed for class cohesion, ample opportunities to pursue interests, and access to programs. I remember being shocked that I was selected for an International Human Rights Clinic semester in Namibia, where my classmates/friends and I advanced policy and litigation around various issues in Namibia, including advocating for a constitutional right to water.”

In addition to the International Human Rights Clinic (which was focused on Namibia during Martínez’s time at SLS), he was also enrolled in the Three Strikes Project. He explains, “I spent a year at SLS (and a little after graduating) working with Reiko Rogozen [class of 2009] on the Three Strikes case of Gregory Taylor. Gregory had served several years of a life sentence for his third strike–attempting to break into a soup kitchen for food while homeless. Under the SLS clinic headed by Mike Romano, Reiko and I were able to win Gregory’s release and reunite him with his family. I was overjoyed for Gregory and in disbelief that we had so meaningfully impacted someone’s life with our legal work.”

After he graduated from SLS in 2010, Martínez was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow and went to Washington, DC to join the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing section. He worked for two years at HUD as a fellow, which included a rotation as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and a rotation as a legislative assistant for U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI). Then he went to clerk for Judge Barry Silverman for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

He returned to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013 as a Trial Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, hired through the Honors Program. Martínez was in that office for five years before he shifted to state government and joined the California Attorney General’s Civil Rights Enforcement section.

Martínez has seen the powerful impact of his work and shared two examples. “While working at the U.S. DOJ Antitrust Division in San Francisco, my team brought and settled a lawsuit over a conspiracy among car component manufacturers to drive up prices. I felt honored to represent the United States in court, on behalf of consumers, and recover several million dollars in the settlement.”

He adds, “I feel like my current job at the California Department of Justice has afforded me many highlights, including personally meaningful work supporting transgender rights litigation. One of my first and most memorable projects was opposing a Trump-era HUD proposed rule that would have denied HUD benefits to anyone living with an undocumented immigrant. I was proud to be working on important and timely matters to help those targeted by an unjust and cruel administration. Thankfully, the proposed rule stalled and was not implemented by the Biden administration.”

While his career has been very fulfilling and meaningful, Martínez notes that it didn’t start off smoothly since he graduated during the Great Recession before the economy rebounded. He shares, “I remember starting my 3L year without a job in a bad legal market. And I wasn’t alone. My friend James Hairston [SLS 2010] and I would commiserate about our joblessness on our daily commutes from SF to SLS, and the firm my brother, Sierra, was headed to dissolved. The pressure of that time forced me to take a very active look at what I wanted from my career and accelerated the public interest that I thought would come later. I started working for the government through the Presidential Management Fellowship. The lessons I learned from the experience, and advice I would impart is to keep actively pursuing your interests and taking risks. Your degree and education have set you up for success, even in hard times, and you do not have to passively accept the easiest and most secure options (especially with LRAP available!).”

He concludes, “One of my fears in law school was that my interests were broad and I didn’t know in which direction to specialize. The PMF experience allowed me to dabble and see what kind of work suited me. As a PMF fellow, I worked for HUD Fair Housing, the DC Civil U.S. Attorney’s Office, and for Senator Akaka. After my fellowship, I continued to dabble—I then clerked for the Honorable Barry Silverman on the Ninth Circuit, worked as a criminal and civil litigator for the US DOJ Antitrust Division in San Francisco, and am now working on law and policy in the Cal DOJ Civil Rights Enforcement Section. Through these broad and varied experiences working on behalf of the government, I have had an impact on issues that are important to me, and developed a skill set that allows me to continue working on both litigation and policy on a wide variety of topics.”

SLS Public Interest Alumni in the News

We are starting a new feature to share good news about our SLS Public Interest alumni. Please feel free to forward news for us to include in future issues.

Joy Basu, JD/MBA '15, was selected as a White House Fellow for 2021-2022 and placed at the White House Gender Policy Council. She was the first Chief of Staff at TPG Growth, where she worked as a key architect and builder of The Rise Fund, a groundbreaking impact investment platform. She also served as The Rise Fund’s global Sector Lead for Food and Agriculture. Prior to joining TPG, Joy was a consultant at McKinsey & Company. Joy also served as project manager to the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture, and has supported strategic projects for the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency and Starbucks Coffee Company.

Mayor London Breed appointed Max Carter-Oberstone, JD '14, to the San Francisco Police Commission. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously confirmed his nomination. Max currently serves as the Orrick Justice Fellow at the Policing Project at New York University Law School, where he is charged with spearheading legislative and litigation initiatives. He is also a Senior Associate in Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Supreme Court & Appellate Practice Group, where he litigates a range of matters in the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts. Before joining Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Carter-Oberstone was an Associate Deputy Solicitor General at the California Department of Justice.

Francesca Gessner, JD '05, recently became the California Attorney General’s Chief of Policy. She will be the primary legal policy advisor and will be responsible for developing, managing, and executing the Attorney General’s policy initiatives. Prior to Francesca’s new position, she served 15 years in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, most recently as General Counsel to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where she advised on all legal issues, including applicable city, state, and federal laws, and supervised a team of deputy city attorneys.

Rebecca Maurer, JD '14, was recently elected to the Cleveland City Council, defeating a 16 year incumbent. Before founding her own firm, Maurer Law, Rebecca previously worked at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the Student Borrower Protection Center, and clerked for the Honorable James Gwin of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

David B. Owens, JD/MA '10, was appointed an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Washington this past Fall and will direct the Civil Rights and Justice Clinic. David is also a partner at Loevy & Loevy, a national civil rights firm originally based in Chicago. He was also at the University of Chicago Law School as a Lecturer in Law with the Exoneration Project, a post-conviction innocence clinic.

Daniel B. Rojas, JD '12, a partner at Rothner, Segall & Greenstone, a labor law firm in Los Angeles, was quoted in the New York Times about a National Labor Relations Board complaint he filed against Sean Penn's nonprofit for implicit threats Mr. Penn made to all staff after two had publicly complained about long hours and the quality of the food provided. The NLRB is moving forward with the complaint, finding that Mr. Penn's email violated federal labor law, and will hold a hearing in 2022.

About Create Change

Standing (L to R): Shafaq Khan, Chelsea Jones, and Anna Wang; Seated (L to R): Mike Winn, Diane Chin, and Titi Liu. Photo by Max Rosenblum.

Create Change is designed and produced quarterly by the staff of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law. Unless specifically noted, all articles are written by staff:

Associate Dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law: Diane T. Chin
Executive Director: Anna Wang
Director, International Public Interest Initiatives: Titi Liu
Director, Pro Bono and Externship Programs: Mike Winn
Assistant Director, Public Interest Career Development Program: Shafaq Khan
Program Manager: Chelsea Jones

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