My first collaboration with Carlitos

Note: This post is in honor of my dear friend and kindred spirit, Carlos “Carlitos” del Valle, who died on Saturday, July 11, 2020.

Although (as I explained in a previous post) I did not meet Carlitos in person until April of 2007, it turns out–unbeknownst to me at the time!–that we had collaborated together on a special legal project years before–back in the spring of 2004. The project was an amicus brief in support of a petition for certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court eventually declined to hear our case (Vélez-Ortiz v. Rivera-Torres, 341 F.3d 86 (1st Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 541. U.S. 972 (2005)), I would like to take a moment to reflect on our collaboration.

First of all, how did I not know about Carlitos at this time? Truth be told, I was working on this brief pro bono on behalf of my mentor and friend, Pedro E. Ortiz-Alvarez, a legal giant who was the lead attorney for the Municipality of Sabana Grande, a small town in southwest Puerto Rico, and for Miguel Vélez-Ortiz, the mayor of this town at the time. (As an aside, one of the things this charming town is famous for is its “Pozo del Virgen,” pictured below.) Don Pedro asked me to write an amicus brief in this case, so I went to work. Inspired by the “Brandeis briefs” of yore, I dissected the qualified immunity standard from a “law and economics” perspective. (As as aside, I eventually converted my part of the brief into a traditional law review article titled “An Economic Analysis of the First Circuit’s Qualified Immunity Standard,” published in the Revista de Derecho Puertorriqueño, Vol. 45, No. 2 (2006), pp. 187-196. You can read my paper/brief here.)

Little did I know, however, that Carlitos was also working on part two our brief. In fact, I did not discover Carlitos’ Herculean contribution until Don Pedro sent me the final version of the brief! And lo and behold, it turns out we made an great legal duo. While part one of the brief (my part) was full of facts and figures and economic theories, part two (Carlitos’s part) was a doctrinal tour de force. Carlitos laid out all the relevant caselaw, distinguishing all the previously-decidedly cases that hurt our cause and drawing direct analogies to all the cases that helped us. More importantly, Carlitos unwittingly taught me a decisive lesson about the law. Although theory makes the academic world go around, legal theory needs to work in tandem with legal doctrine if you want to change the law. So, no matter how bad the existing state of affairs in any given area of law is (and the qualified immunity doctrine is a case in point!), judges take stare decisis seriously, and they will base their decisions on previous cases …

Carlitos would go onto to impact my scholarship in many other ways. I will describe those extra-powerful impacts soon. In the meantime, thank you, Carlitos. You will not be forgotten.

Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico. Santuario de La Virgen del Pozo ...

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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