U.S. Capitol building

Mindy Daniels, my reluctant mentor

Jamison KoehlerAppellate Practice, D.C. Superior Court

She doesn’t know it yet but Mindy Daniels is going to be my mentor on all things having to do with the D.C. Court of Appeals.

One of the first things I do whenever I start out in a new jurisdiction is to decide which lawyers I admire most. I then glom onto them. I usually pick a handful of different lawyers. That way I don’t burden any one lawyer with too many questions.

I came upon Mindy Daniels through another lawyer I also admire: Howard Margulies of D.C. Superior Court. I was working on my first brief for the Court of Appeals and asked Margulies if he had a sample brief he could share with me.  He sent me two briefs that Daniels had written four or five years ago.

Daniels does not write appellate briefs the way we were taught in law school.  The law is integrated into the argument so seamlessly that you hardly realize you are reading a legal brief. I decided after reading the first couple of pages that I was going to have to meet her. At the same time, because the briefs Margulies sent me were so dated, I didn’t even know if she was still practicing in the jurisdiction.

Daniels and I meet at Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in Hyattsville. She is roughly my age and physically smaller than you might expect in an appellate lawyer with her clout.  She is also thin, attractive, and very lively.

Daniels is probably most famous in D.C. for the work she has done on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and we talk some about that.  Moving down from New York to the District in 1976, she got her law degree from George Washington University in 1983 and almost immediately began applying her skills to the social issues that concerned her:  the homeless, establishing a halfway house for women as an alternative to incarceration, and then LGBT rights.  For example, she led the effort to obtain domestic partnership rights in the District, sodomy law reform, and helped write the Bias-Related Crimes Act.  In 2009, she served as the organizer for transgender issues in the State of Maryland, making efforts to include transgender persons in human rights laws.

We cover the ins and outs of appellate practice in the District. Two hours later, we walk out onto the sidewalk in front of Franklin’s, and I ask for her permission to blog about our lunch.  She smiles reluctantly but agrees. Then she says what I have been hoping for all along:  I should call her with any questions about appellate practice. I can’t remember if the word “mentor” actually passed her lips. Until she tells me otherwise, I have decided that it did.