Profiles in Justice: ADA Raul Rojo
By way of Miami, Florida, and Washington, D.C., Raul Rojo is now part of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) as a new Assistant District Attorney (ADA).
“I’ve only been here for three months. Miami is home, and I went to Georgetown Law to get my J.D., but I’ve very much come to appreciate Philadelphia,” ADA Rojo said. “Believe it or not, Philadelphia and Miami have a lot in common. Both cities are very diverse and struggle with high rates of poverty and homelessness, which can challenge policing and the criminal justice system.”
Rojo is currently assigned to the DAO’s Municipal Court Unit, prosecuting misdemeanor trials and felony preliminary hearings, and is putting his first weeks of classroom training into practice.
“We learned all we could from training, but it’s a steep learning curve. Nothing in a book could really prepare me for what I see every day in court. The first weeks were very eye-opening, and I learned so much, but there continues to be surprises every day,” Rojo added. “The court here is a lot less formal than what I was expecting, based on my internship experience in Clark County, Nevada, and Washington, D.C. Also, the volume of cases is much greater, and as a result we only have a short time to prep with our police officers and witnesses, so we need to think on our feet.”
As Raul gains more experience with the goal of becoming as fast on his feet as some of the office’s senior ADAs, he is thinking that he would like to rotate into the DAO’s PCRA (Post Conviction Relief Act) Unit to conduct evidentiary hearings, work with witnesses, and manage cases in Common Pleas (CP) Court.
“PCRAs would allow me to do more research and writing while still allowing for some court time. I know my cases well now, but I only see them through trial. PCRAs would give me time to examine all aspects of the case and develop more complex arguments,” Rojo said.
ADA Rojo’s interest in the law began when he worked as a claims adjuster and fraud investigator at an insurance company in Florida. Most of the cases he helped with involved property damage, and he worked with accident reconstruction experts to build a fact pattern for each case. Rojo’s interest in helping his community sprung up earlier.
“Before my experience with insurance, I worked in landscaping, construction, and roofing for several years. During that time, I met lots of people that were being taken advantage of in one way or another,” Rojo explained. “These were people who couldn’t go to the police because they thought they would be deported. I thought it was important for someone like me to go into law enforcement to help them.”
“I volunteered at a police department, I really respect so much what police officers do, but I realized that I wanted to do more. I was also concerned about how the criminal justice system was working. [I] thought I could change the system from within, but I didn’t know how to do that,” Rojo continued.
He chose to attend law school, and one course in particular showed him that he was on the right path. That course was called Innovative Policing, which allowed students to engage with new recruits of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department and work together to understand the issues facing impoverished communities.
“I thought that the officers would be unwilling to think outside of the box and try new approaches. Engaging with them showed me that they saw the same issues and believed in the same solutions and that we can make a difference and that law enforcement could help,” Rojo noted. “During that experience, we focused quite a bit on understanding the communities that the officers were assigned to. This included the history of the region and the needs and challenges of the population. We also explored how diverse the District of Columbia is and how that affects policing in the region.”
Rojo added: “These same concepts can be applied in cities all over the country. And, I’ve taken a lot of these lessons to heart as an ADA in Philadelphia.”
In his second year of law school Raul was recruited and hired by District Attorney Krasner as part of the office’s new class of 60 ADAs. The class is the most diverse class ever welcomed to the DAO and hails from 29 law schools from across the country, including several from historically black colleges and universities. All of the new ADAs were recruited by District Attorney Krasner and First Assistant District Attorneys Robert Listenbee and Judge Carolyn Temin. More than half of the new class are women, 2% identify as non-binary, and about a quarter of the class comes from Philadelphia.