Ask the Attorney: An Interview with LLDF’s new staff attorney, Allison Aranda, Esq.

LLDF is pleased to announce the hiring of a second, salaried attorney as of this past April 1. In addition to Executive Director Dana Cody, LLDF is proud to now have attorney Allison Aranda on full-time staff.

Allison is a 1997 graduate of Biola University in La Mirada, California (B.A. in Social Science with a minor in Biblical Studies). In May 2001, she went on to earn her J.D. from Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, graduating in the top ten percent. While in law school and again while awaiting Bar results, she worked as a law clerk for the Los Angeles and Orange Counties District Attorneys’ offices. Upon passing the Bar in November 2001, she went right to work as a criminal prosecutor, first for the Orange County and later the Riverside County District Attorneys’ offices. She handled both misdemeanor and felony matters, conducted over thirty jury trials, and was honored as Misdemeanor Prosecutor of the Year in 2004. From November 2006 until March 2008, Allison was on staff with the United States Justice Foundation (USJF) in Ramona, California, a public interest law firm, writing briefs and handling Constitutional and civil rights litigation—including several matters for LLDF. She is married to Miguel Aranda, whom she met while they were both students at Biola. They live with their three cats in Temecula, California, the Riverside County community where Allison grew up.

How did you come to be pro-life?

During my senior year in high school, I took an advanced-placement government class. It was a small class, and our teacher was amazing. Don’t get me wrong—he was head of the teacher’s union, so his politics weren’t exactly conservative—but he was thought-provoking, inspirational, and fair. He encouraged us to research and defend our religious and political beliefs, not just regurgitate the rhetoric we learned from our parents or the media. Well, my best friend and I made it our goal to educate the class about abortion. We wore graphic shirts to class and debated our friends nearly every day. For me, things were definitely black and white. There was no grey in my life. Abortion was wrong . . . it was murder. How could a country legitimize the killing of innocent children?

That same year, I did my senior project on abortion. A few of my classmates scoffed at me, but, at the time, I had no idea how many people condoned abortion. Growing up in Temecula, I was sheltered from the harsh realities of a secular society. In fact, it was not until I started working some cases with pro-life protestors that I came to realize the magnitude of this debate—the numbers of babies murdered, the horrific procedures that are used to kill the children, and the devastating effect that abortion has on the women. I have been pro-life for, well, my whole life, but there is a difference between holding a belief and actively advocating for change.

What made you decide to go to law school?

That year (my senior year) changed my life. As the year came to an end, my classmates and I planned our graduation events, including a baccalaureate. The school administration told us that we were not allowed to have a baccalaureate service because it was against a new Supreme Court law! Setting aside the fact that the Supreme Court doesn’t pass laws, I knew that they were wrong. So I enlisted the help of my local State Assemblyman and fought the administration. We ended up having an entirely student-led, baccalaureate service at a local church. The tradition carries on to this day. That attack on my religious liberties opened my eyes to the injustice that takes place in our world. I was determined to fight to defend our liberty.

These experiences confirmed my desire to go to law school. I knew I wanted to be involved in shaping public policy some day. I loved to argue, which is sort of funny, at least to my parents, as I was extremely shy when I was a child. I wouldn’t even call the movie hotline to hear what was playing for fear that a live person might pick up the line. That all changed in junior high and high school. I joined an evangelism club and the debate team, and, as my parents put it, I haven’t stopped talking since.

At Biola, I met a professor named Rick Larsh. Mr. Larsh taught my criminology class and was a criminal defense lawyer at the time. Mr. Larsh saw my passion for justice and mentored me throughout college. He allowed me to intern for him so that I could see just what being a lawyer was all about. That experience birthed my desire to become a prosecutor.

During my senior year in college, I lived in Washington, D.C., and attended classes and worked for Family Research Council. A year after I returned to California, I began law school at Pepperdine University. I was focused and determined. My heart’s desire was to be a prosecutor or to practice constitutional and civil rights law.

How did you first become involved in handling LLDF cases?

While working for United States Justice Foundation, I met Colette Wilson, another attorney on their staff at the time. She has been a pro-life activist and attorney for twenty years and is on the board of directors for LLDF. One day she told me about a new case that LLDF was seeking an attorney to handle. It involved some individuals with a group called the Survivors, who had been arrested for exercising their free speech rights at a public community college and were being prosecuted for trespassing. I was outraged when I learned what had happened to them. After years in the prosecutor’s office, I knew, based on the facts of the case, that they had not committed any crime. It was obvious that the college and the police department were abusing their authority in order to silence a message they did not agree with. Colette told me that she would help me with the civil aspect of the case, if I would do the criminal part. I presented the case to my boss at USJF and insisted that we help the Survivors. He saw my heart and passion for pro-life work and agreed to take on the case. A couple months later, I met Jeff White and Cheryl Conrad (founder and director of Survivors) at a Mothers’ Day event at an abortion clinic and became even more convinced that working with pro-life activists was God’s new purpose for my life. I have been working on similar cases ever since.

You interned with the DA’s office while in law school and then spent your first five years as a lawyer working as a prosecutor. How did that background prepare you for representing pro-life activists in court?

As a prosecutor, I never could have imagined working as a criminal defense attorney. I was ruthless, always willing to take on the toughest cases and fight for justice. I put a lot of hard work into my cases and did over thirty jury trials in my last three years as a prosecutor.

When I left the prosecutor’s office to work for a nonprofit public interest firm, I didn’t expect that my trial experience would be used all that often. I thought that civil litigation involved a lot of paperwork and more strategy than courtroom battles. Then I was introduced to the world of pro-life activism. I could not believe that the law, the same law I had worked so hard to uphold, was being used to imprison innocent young people, simply for speaking the truth about abortion.

My years as a prosecutor taught me the intricate details of the criminal justice system. I learned the Penal Code and the Evidence Code inside and out. This knowledge and these skills help me negotiate with prosecutors as I now work to defend pro-life activists. They have also prepared me to be ready to litigate these cases through trial, rather than simply settle for less than what justice demands. Many lawyers rarely see the inside of a courtroom and are intimidated by the idea of going to trial, but just the opposite is true for me. I never want my clients to feel that they have to falsely admit criminal wrongdoing or make a plea deal just because I’m not willing to fight for what is right. My years as a prosecutor have trained me to fight this battle with courage and to do whatever it takes to seek justice.

How many cases are you now handling as a staff attorney for LLDF?

I am currently handling three criminal cases involving arrests of pro-life protesters at three different college campuses. I am also handling nine civil cases. Additionally, I am monitoring two criminal cases in which pro-lifers were attacked and were the victims of crime.

Have you had any successes?

Yes. Last fall, I defended a sidewalk counselor in a civil case against trumped-up claims by a Planned Parenthood clinic. After I scheduled several depositions of Planned Parenthood employees, Planned Parenthood abruptly backed down and agreed to dismiss the case while it was still in the beginning stages of litigation. We have had criminal charges dismissed in three cases and have been instrumental in preventing criminal charges from being filed in another case. We are now in the midst of settlement negotiations in two civil rights cases and have successfully defended another one of our civil rights cases from early dismissal.

What do you like best about working on these types of cases?

I don’t know where to begin with this one. I love the clients. Their passion for the unborn is captivating. Their courage to speak the truth is inspiring. Their dedication to saving the lost is humbling. It is a pleasure to defend them and seek justice on their behalf. I also know that it is my life’s mission to do justice. What better way to accomplish that goal than to defend activists who speak up for the voiceless in our society?

Do you see your legal work as a ministry?

Definitely yes! I truly am an activist at heart. In fact, I often find myself wanting to join them at the events. Reality quickly reminds me that it’s a little difficult to be a defendant, a witness, and the lawyer all at the same time. The Bible is clear that each member of the body of Christ plays a vital role in the mission of the Church. God has given me the unique ability to defend the rights of the grassroots activists in our courts. He has given me the responsibility to fight for their right to speak the truth—the very truth that saves lives. Without the hard work and commitment of pro-life lawyers, many activists would fear imprisonment, face civil penalties, and feel intimidated by the legal forces of pro-abortion advocates. It is a privilege to stand behind these warriors who dare to speak the truth about the greatest atrocity facing our nation today, who dare to allow God to use them to share His redemption story, who dare to stand on the front line of this battle and save human lives!

What would you advise other attorneys who are considering whether to take on a pro-life case?

All God requires of us is a willing heart. Once you surrender your life and your life’s work to His will, you will be transformed, and your life will never be the same. These cases are truly a matter of life and death. You cannot imagine or grasp the magnitude of this work until you are entrenched in the middle of the war. And it is a war, make no mistake about it. This is a spiritual battle. You will face injustice and persecution, but you will also see God work miracles. There is no greater reward than to see a lost soul spare a life and turn to the Lord, the Savior of the world.