The Honorable Alvin M. Harrell, III, Class of 1988; and The Honorable Arlan L. Harrell, Class of 1990
You both went to UC Riverside as undergrads, both came to UC Davis for law school, and are now both judges for the Fresno County Superior Court. How did that happen?
Alvin: He copied me. Just kidding. Actually, we have always been close. Arlan went to UC Riverside first in 1979 and I followed in 1981. I had visited Arlan at UCR and I liked the campus, so following him there was a no-brainer. Moreover, having a sibling at the same institution eases the acclimation process. I enrolled at Davis in 1985 and Arlan joined me in 1987. Davis was an excellent fit for us both because we were from a small college town, Claremont.
Arlan: We were raised to be very close. We are fourteen months apart, and sometimes our mother dressed us as twins. We had the same goals: to use the gifts we had been given to the fullest extent possible.
Does it ever cause any mix-ups?
Alvin: Every single day. I am amazed that even with people who have worked with us for years still get us mixed-up.
Arlan: It causes mix-ups in our own family. At court, we may be on the same call list at the same time. I’m always careful to spell out my first name, and I’m sure my brother is, too. If I make a mistake, I don’t want my brother blamed for it.
What do you enjoy about your current work?
Arlan: Everything. I always thought this was something I wanted to do. Making sure that everyone receives a fair trial is what I enjoy most.
Alvin: I love everything about it. I never take it for granted. It is a privilege to serve and to give people a chance to be heard.
What did you do after law school, and how did that lead into your current work?
Arlan: In my last semester of law school, I did an internship with a bankruptcy judge here in Fresno. When I went to work for a bankruptcy attorney, my first trial was in front of the same judge. I knew the judge had been a District Attorney and that had been a good way to learn from doing a lot of trials. So I went to work for the District Attorney’s office. I met more and more judges and spoke to them. I was in training, learning from them. I call that my “postgraduate education.”
Alvin: I worked in the Sacramento office of a San Francisco-based management labor law firm. I did trust fund defense litigation and some discrimination work. In 1991, I moved to Fresno to work for a local firm where I did commercial litigation for financial institutions including, but not limited to Bank of America. The firm folded in May 1994 when my wife and I were expecting our first daughter. Fortunately, I was only out of work for maybe a week. I went to the District Attorney’s office, where I eventually became supervisor of the hardcore gang unit. In that capacity, I tried a number of cases and then started to seriously consider a move to the bench. After my promotion to Assistant District Attorney, I learned a new skill set, and made the requisite connections to make the bench a reality.
What did you do before coming to King Hall?
Arlan: I was a student, husband, and father. I entered law school with a two-year-old son. I give my wife Linda complete credit for making that work. I met her in my second year of college, and we’ve been together ever since. My second son was born the April before I graduated. He was only a few weeks old at the ceremony. That was a real advantage to going to UC Davis: the support for going to school while raising a child. Having access to the library at all hours of the night was huge.
Alvin: I went straight through school. I relied on scholarships, loans, and working to pay for my education, so over the summers I had “incentive jobs” — incentives to stay in school. These jobs included everything from driving a forklift to wearing an Icee Bear costume on Saturdays.
What is your favorite King Hall memory?
Arlan: The many times I spent speaking with classmate Yong Yim ‘90, who has since passed away. Our birthdays were a day apart, and one year I remember he made a pecan pie and we celebrated our birthdays with my wife and son. He was a really special person. My other favorite memory is of the many wonderful professors I had.
Alvin: My first day of Contracts with Dan Fessler. He reminded me of Kingsfield in “The Paper Chase.” He had the bow tie and the very precise way of speaking. It was scary, but exciting.
What class at King Hall served you well in your career choice?
Alvin: Evidence with Professor Wydick. He made evidence come alive with these crazy drawings on the overhead projector. He was a genuine, nice person. Also, the Legal Writing class with Professor Antonia Bernhard. I liked it so much, I eventually served as one of her teaching assistants. Legal writing serves any lawyer well.
Arlan: Criminal law, criminal procedure. The trial practice class was invaluable. Before taking it, I thought I wanted to be the kind of lawyer who only does research. The class opened my eyes to being up front and conducting the whole case. Professor Imwinkelried was the overall professor, but Mark Arnold was also an adjunct professor along with a family law attorney, Professor Garrett C. Dailey ‘77. I still have Professor Imwinkelried’s trial practice textbook. I recommend it to attorneys who haven’t had the advantage of a trial practice class like his. Professor Ayer’s bankruptcy class was also very useful.
Who was your favorite King Hall professor?
Arlan: There were two: the late Professor Raymond Parnas and Professor Jack Ayer. I served as a research assistant for each of them. They believed in me.
Alvin: Professor Parnas taught criminal procedure. He would have somebody run in, take something off his desk, and run out. It taught us how difficult it is to accurately identify someone. Ten different people gave ten different answers. You can tell students that, but seeing it brings it home.
How did you end up at King Hall?
Arlan: I learned of King Hall as an undergraduate when Patsy Kay Crawford ’76 came to the Riverside campus to talk about law school. She was a UC Riverside and King Hall graduate, and she made law school seem possible for me. At the time, my oldest sister lived in Sacramento. When my family went up to visit her, the whole family went to visit the law school building named after Martin Luther King, Jr. When we got there, the building was locked, but some students let us in to look around. I knew I wanted to go to King Hall. Alvin passed me on the way to law school — because I was raising a child — so he was accepted first. He was accepted to different places, but I encouraged him to go to King Hall.
Alvin: It made an impression on us that the students were actually in the school on a weekend. They had access to the law school 24/7. Furthermore, the students were very pleasant and inviting. I also remember how calm Davis was, with the ducks on Putah Creek.
Do you have any advice for current law students?
Alvin: Appreciate where you are. The emphasis on doing the right thing resonated throughout my experience at King Hall. You are going to think like a lawyer when you leave. Use your powers for good. Make a positive impact on the world, keep perspective, and love what you do.
Arlan: Don’t let anyone take away your dreams. If there’s something specific you want to do, don’t let anyone discourage you. And remember that law school is an investment in yourself. If you are there for the right reason, the investment will pay off. It will be worth it.
Do you have any advice for students seeking jobs or internships?
Alvin: Be patient but also persistent. And be flexible. You may find that your first choice doesn’t turn out to be your first choice. I had no idea I wanted to be a prosecutor. I had no idea I would be a judge.
Arlan: Take advantage of the internships available through the law school. I worked with Judge Richard T. Ford as an intern in the Fresno Division of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California, and that was very helpful. Find someone doing what you want to do, and offer your services. It gives you an opportunity to sell yourself and to watch them. I was a “Fred” for a law firm. We were really runners, but they called us all “Fred” so they wouldn’t have to remember our names. It was an opportunity to learn how a firm works and what its goals are.
Anything else you would like to add?
Alvin: Our mother raised four kids by herself. I remember helping her clean hotel rooms and offices when I was a kid. When my brother was enrobed in 2006, my mother asked for time off to go to the ceremony. Then when I was enrobed in 2007, she asked for time off again. This time, nobody believed that she had two sons as judges. My brother swore me in. I still feel like pinching myself every time I put on the robe or I see my brother on the bench. If you work hard and stay focused, anything is possible.
Arlan: I am very grateful. I’m grateful that I was admitted to UC Davis School of Law and given the opportunity to fulfill my dream. It wouldn’t have happened without the supportive environment the school provided for my family and myself. It helped to have my brother there, too.