Internship at the California Attorney General's Office

By Justin Oetting, Public Policy undergraduate student 

Reflections from my Public Policy Internship

I was blessed to receive the Public Policy Summer Internship Fellowship in the summer of 2018 to work in the California Attorney General’s office in San Diego. Working on Hague Convention violation cases, I was fortunate enough to have significant responsibility that I was yet capable of carrying out in spite of my limited legal experience.

For my internship, I was part of the Child Abduction Unit, along with Deputy Attorney Generals Anthony Da Silva (my supervisor) and Warren Williams (until he left on paternity leave). I wrote all of California’s outgoing (in which a child has been kidnapped from the United States) Hague petitions that came from the State Department during the period that I worked (five cases in total). I wrote the petitions in English for the U.S. government, and then translated the petitions into Spanish for the Mexican government. After we would send the petitions to the Mexican government, Interpol would locate the kidnapped children, send in an extraction team, and secure them, assuming the taking parent had not already given up the children. The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction is a civil proceeding, so even if there are criminal acts involved (and there typically are), the petitions I wrote did not consider these. For diplomatic purposes, our team kept the criminal charges separate from the civil proceeding in order to prioritize the well-being of the child.

One of the main purposes of the Hague Convention is to prevent venue selection. The taking parent may try to take the child out of the country for a more lenient court custody hearing, or to avoid one entirely. The petitions I wrote established the prima facie elements of the child’s habitual residence that are necessary to invoke the Hague Convention. While the Hague Convention only requires habitual residency and not citizenship to apply, after the case has passed beyond our office, US immigration typically requires that Mexican citizens be brought to hearing within Mexico without extradition.

Aside from the opportunities I had related to the Hague cases I worked on, I benefited from all sorts of opportunities available in the AG’s office. For example, I attended Westlaw training and oral advocacy training with some of the Deputy Attorney Generals. With the other interns, I went to assault training at the Chula Vista Police Department, an autopsy at the medical examiner’s office, and to lunch with Gary Schons, the former head of our department (Appeals, Writs and Trials), at Best Best & Krieger, a private law firm in San Diego. Some Deputy Attorney Generals also invited me to attend hearings for environmental cases, as I am interested in studying environmental law.

My mentor, Deputy Attorney General Anthony Da Silva, was instrumental in my positive experience at the AG’s Office. Despite how busy he was, he would always make time for me to discuss the Hague cases (particularly why we include or omit certain information in the cases). Anthony would check in with me regularly, and we would generally have team meetings twice a week to talk about the cases, or more broadly about the field of law. Anthony is the head lecturer for the State Department on the Hague Convention; in the spring quarter before I began my internship, I attended a symposium on international child restitution at Stanford Law School at which he, law professors, and State Department officials spoke. Anthony is also a key figure in the modernization of Latin America’s courts; during the internship, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture on oral adversary he gave in Spanish to law students from Mexico.

Once again, I cannot emphasize enough how significant this opportunity was for me and how the support I received from the Public Policy Department and donors made this internship possible.