MANILA, Philippines - If the rules of evidence are to be applied, then lawyer Karen Jimeno is definitely a prima facie beauty – one whose impeccable Asian features and intelligent bearing are enough to make the world swoon “at first look” (as the legal jargon suggests). But get into her head and you will see her for what she truly is — a woman of style and substance beyond any reasonable doubt.
Karen Jimeno first caught the public eye as a defense lawyer in the much-publicized impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, the slender, raven-haired lady shone in a sea of male lawyers. But to say that she earned her place under the sun for her looks would be an injustice to Karen. Beauty is actually the least of her concerns.
A magna cum laude of the UP Diliman Law School (2005), and later, a holder of a Master of Laws Degree from Harvard Law School (2011), Karen was more than ready to join the ranks of Corona’s legal knights. She is a practicing lawyer, not just in the Philippines, but also in the United States, having recently passed the New York Bar Exams. Being dubbed the “courtroom crushie” — as one Facebook fanpage so giddily put it — was never the objective when she signed up as a member of the defense counsel.
“I’m a lawyer and a busy woman. Comfort is my main — if not only – concern when I dress up,” shares Karen when asked how much she cares for fashion. The most fashion-forward thing for her is a wrap-dress because “it’s so figure-friendly and easy to wear.” She steers clear of skirts and blouses because she’d rather mix and match arguments and pieces of evidence, instead of pieces of clothing. Karen likes color and loves handbags. That’s about it.
The lady lawyer also admits that her duties as the defense’s spokesperson required her to put on makeup and look good due to the innumerable ambush interviews she had to survive for television. Time was a luxury she did not have. “At one point, I was already out there, giving interviews before I realized, ‘Oh my God. Isang mata pa lang ang nilagyan ko nang makeup. (I’ve only done makeup on one eye)’,” she recalls fondly.
When the rest of the impeachment court retreated after a draining day of trial, she walks into the spotlight to wrap things up in layman’s terms so that she could explain it to the people. “I may not have been prepared for the media circus, but I was prepared to explain to the people. I think that’s one of the reasons why they hired me. I was a former UP Law professor and I could tell the people what goes on with the law in words they (like my students) could understand.”
In his (and her) defense
Karen admits that she was never interested in politics prior to her very public job as Corona’s defense lawyer. “I’ve always loved economics, so I was more interested in corporate and finance cases. That, and pro-bono litigation work, where you’re free to help in the best way that you can,” she explains.
However, the 32-year-old lawyer just couldn’t say no when she finally got a call from the defense team, asking her to hop aboard. “I didn’t know the Chief Justice personally. But as a lawyer, all I could think of was its effect on the Constitution. The kind of danger it would set if the impeachment was used for political reasons.” So after reviewing the articles of impeachment and deeming it lacking, she immediately signed on to be part of this legal battle of epic proportions.
It was also unexpected for those who knew her personally, since Karen actually signed a public statement against the Chief Justice himself, when his alleged midnight appointment caused a ruckus in 2010. So why the change of heart, especially at a time when public opinion seemed to favor the prosecution by a landslide?
It’s simple. “When the Supreme Court deemed his appointment legal after making a collegial vote, I took it as a learning experience. As a lawyer, I recognize that the Supreme Court is the highest interpreter of the laws of the land,” Karen explains.
As judgment day beckoned though, the impeachment court convicted Corona. While the event in itself was so emotionally charged for the Philippine nation, Karen kept her cool from the moment she woke up to the time the numbers 20-to-3 changed the course of Philippine history. She was already in a good mood, knowing that, at the very least, the trial would end with a verdict — not with another round of people power. “When I accepted the job, all I wanted was to contribute to the credibility of the process. At that point, as a lawyer, you just wanted to know what precedents the trial would set for future generations,” she says.
Back to Home
With that chapter in her life behind her, Karen once again retreats to where her deepest longing leads. She is, after all, a newlywed, a baking enthusiast and a servant to the unfortunate – sides that are only starting to show now that the frenzy over the impeachment has died down.
For instance, she now has more time to cook for her husband, American investment banker Evan McBride. “When people see me onscreen, I’m all bout these legal issues. At home, I’m actually a regular wife. I take good care of my husband, cooking and baking for him,” she explains with a smile. Contrary to pre-conceived notions though, Karen, despite being an A-list lawyer, is never argumentative as a wife. “I’m actually very compromising in a sense that I like to hear the other side. His side. I’m a middle child, you see. Sanay akong natatalo sa arguments kapag sa bahay (I’m used to losing arguments at home).”
Karen and Evan, who were married a week before the impeachment trial, are also keen on setting up their long overdue honeymoon by the end of the year. They have no solid plans as of yet, but a prelude to the honeymoon has started with the quiet time they are finally able to spend with each other at home in Manila.
Karen’s life as a lawyer has also started to go back to its normal pace. Having interned for the International Justice Mission and represented underage kids who were imprisoned early, she now looks forward to her next pro-bono cases which will help her bring underprivileged, offended parties closer to the kind of justice they deserve. Whether it’s sexually abused OFWs or women who have fallen victim to domestic violence, she relishes every opportunity to help in the “human side” of litigation. She adds, “With pro-bono, I can defend a client within the bounds of what I think is right, what is legitimate. There’s no unreasonable demands or requests to bend your principles. It’s the best way to practice law, if you ask me.”
Not exactly comfortable with attention, Karen could say that, at this point, her 15 minutes of fame may probably have begun to subside — by choice, that is. But the glitter of her star as a litigator and the sense of purpose she feels for her profession will not fade with the dimming of the lights.
She is, after all, already part of history. And even in loss, Karen Jimeno is sure to inspire. “Growing up during the 1986 EDSA Revolution, I was taught by my parents the value of democracy and accountability, of human rights. This is what being a lawyer is all about.”