Kate Jastram’s first memory of having Adrian Kinsella in her Armed Conflict and International Law class at UC Berkeley was how often he wasn’t in class.
“I think back to how often he had to leave class to take a phone call,” Jastram, a lecturer-in-residence at Berkeley Law, says. “It doesn’t normally endear a student to a professor when that happens.”
But Kinsella, who graduates from Berkeley this Friday with an advanced law degree and will become a federal prosecutor in Sacramento, has never been one to do normal. As Jastram discovered, Kinsella’s class time had to be split with a humanitarian mission.
At the time, in 2014, Kinsella was 29 and a third-year Berkeley Law student, He was also an active duty captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, attending law school through a small, selective program designed to infuse the ranks of military attorneys, the majority of whom are commissioned directly out of law school, with officers who have previous military experience.
Kinsella’s prior experience was as a platoon commander. He’d led a platoon in Afghanistan and was a battery executive officer upon his return. He then became an adjutant when his bosses learned he was applying to law school. He’d returned home with one unfinished mission: He was still fighting to get his platoon’s translator, Mohammad, and his family to safety in the United States. (Mohammad asks that his last name be omitted as he works to bring others to the U.S.)
Mohammad had paid a price for his aid to the United States. His father had been killed by the Taliban and his brother, kidnapped by the Taliban, might have been killed had Mohammad not paid a $35,000 ransom to get him free.
“I have a picture of the $35,000 ransom payment that Mohammad had to leave on his father’s grave in a plastic bag, lest, as the ransom note warned, his brother would be next,” Kinsella says. “I didn’t understand why it was so difficult for our country to fulfill our promise to Mohammad and his family, who were in danger because of Mohammad’s extraordinary service to U.S. troops.”
Kinsella took it upon himself to repay that debt. He was already two years into Mohammad’s application process when he arrived at Berkeley Law in 2012. So, when he had to step out of class to field telephone calls, it wasn’t frivolous.
“Adrian is just amazing,” Jastram says. “He is such a compassionate person. I have never seen his actual military side. I am sure he would be a terrifying adversary because he is such a strong ally and friend. He was in the absolute thick of it, at the time, working with a non-functioning bureaucracy.
“He got it done. The military motto of `No man left behind’ is the way he lives.” Mohammad arrived in this country on Jan. 20, 2014.
Another of Kinsella’s professors, Ioana Petrou, a Berkeley lecturer and an associate justice on the California First District Court of Appeals, fondly remembers swearing Kinsella in as an attorney in 2015 with Mohammad’s family as interested observers.
“It was a big day for him and his family, and Mohammad and his family were there, too,” Petrou says. “There was a moment when he took Mohammad’s little brother and put him on the bench; it was the idea of how we all should be treating each other. And you don’t really see the bond between Adrian and Mohammad until you see them in the same room. This is a permanent and lifetime bond.”
Once Mohammad got to the Bay Area, his life quickly took a turn for the better. Two weeks after his arrival, he met a U.S. Coast Guard veteran at a Super Bowl party and was offered a job on the spot. Mohammad is now living in Fairfield and working in the East Bay as a medical technician. He’ll be in Berkeley this weekend, as it’s his turn to support Kinsella during his big week.
Kinsella and his wife, Kate Hoit, an Army veteran, are closing on their first house, in Sacramento. But the couple, who met when they were selected as Pat Tillman Military Scholars in 2012 by the Tillman Foundation, won’t be there, because it’s the same day Kinsella’s being presented with his LL.M. — the Master of Laws degree for legal professionals who’ve done advanced legal study and specialization. Kinsella specialized in cyber law.
Kinsella got his J.D. at Berkeley Law in 2015 while still on active duty, then returned to the fleet and spent three years practicing law in the U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocate Division. He could have jumped into the civilian courtroom then, but he came back to Berkeley to pursue an advanced law degree. It wasn’t all about the degree, however. It was about Juniper Kinsella, who today is 10 months old.
“I wanted to be there for my newborn daughter,” he says. “Normally, if you are doing a 9-to-5 job, even with a good commute, you’re home at 6 p.m., and you might get to see your kid for an hour a day, at the most. With getting out of the military after 10 years, one year of the GI Bill left and a newborn, the stars aligned for me: I was able to earn a master’s degree in an increasingly important field — cyber, or internet, law — transition to civilian life and, most importantly, be there as much as possible for my wife and newborn. While schoolwork with a newborn can be difficult at times, it’s certainly not as hard as being a father and working full time.”
Kinsella, who grew up in Seattle, wanted to come back to Berkeley, a place “I owe a lot to,” he says.
“Berkeley was an unusual place for me to wind up the first time, because of the reputation it had as being anti-military,” he says. “I did feel a little strange when I first arrived, on active duty orders, riding my Harley. I get off the freeway at Claremont, and there is a huge whiff of marijuana smoke through my helmet before it was legal, and I think, `Yeah, I’m here.’ But it didn’t take me long to realize my preconceptions were superficial, and that there was so much more to Berkeley.
“My first time here, getting my J.D., Berkeley Law became like a family to me,” he adds. “Coming back seemed like the right thing to do. Berkeley Law’s was the only LL.M. program I applied to. Now that I’m leaving again, it will be like leaving a family. It’s nice to know that I’ll only be an hour and a half away.”
Kinsella likes to tell the story about how Berkeley’s community stepped up time and time again to help him save Mohammad and his family from the Taliban. There was, for example, the humanitarian parole application, which he calls “178 pages of bureaucratic glory,” that had to be accurate down to the last comma. It was, with both his classmates and members of the faculty pitching in.
“Fellow law students were practically knocking down the door to volunteer,” he says. “Kate Jastram served as the attorney of record on the family’s case, supervising us law students. We came together like family, everybody knowing it was the right thing to do.
“All in all, over 200 people across the country stepped up to help, whether it was helping with the application process or reaching out to their representatives. We had so many people stepping up to do what they felt was their civic duty. I have a picture of the application somewhere, all 178 pages of it, that so many of them worked on.”
The momentum swung to Mohammad’s side in early 2013 when Olga Tomchin, then a third-year law student and co-director of the Berkeley branch of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), got Kinsella linked with the legal advocacy organization. Tomchin and future IRAP directors and fellow Berkeley Law alumni May Whitaker and Rich Weir, who, like Kinsella, is a Marine, helped “turn the tide from endless bureaucratic backlog to actual responses,” Kinsella says.
Alumni Chandra Peterson and Sophie Cooper helped escalate the fight to a national level. Peterson served as the state leader for Iowa, reaching out to her state government officials and recruiting friends and family to do the same. Cooper, who worked in Washington, D.C., for Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell before coming to law school, got Sewell’s office onboard and then served as the campaign’s congressional outreach arm for several other offices.
Later, following yet more legal legwork, Mohammad’s mother and siblings reunited with him in the Bay Area, with the help of HBO and comedian and commentator John Oliver. A segment on Oliver’s Last Week Tonight focused on the plight of translators, and it was just a few weeks later that the family was moved from Pakistan, where they’d been in hiding, to the Bay Area. They are part of the Kinsella family now, even as he transitions from classroom to courtroom.
Kinsella has a job awaiting him as an assistant U.S. attorney in Sacramento, where he will serve in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Unit. Hoit is the California director for land conservation at the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation.
And Juniper? Well, Juniper sleeps a lot. One of her favorite Berkeley things to do is to go to class with her dad and fall asleep on his chest.
“She’s kind of famous around the law school,” Kinsella says. “And she is welcome whenever I bring her. Professor (Paul) Schwartz in my information privacy law class welcomes her with open arms any time I bring her to class. He even gave her a book, Cowboy Small, which he said was his favorite book when he was a boy. Whether it be with parenting advice, help babysitting so Kate and I can go on a date or baby supplies, everybody has been extremely welcoming to the newest member of my family, just as they were the first time around with my Afghan family.
“Berkeley has always been special to me.”