Summer 2011 Fellows
Christine Donovan - Legal Aid Society of Columbus
As a law clerk for the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC), I helped to provide direct legal services to low-income and senior citizen residents in Columbus and the surrounding area. LASC provides legal services to individual clients in a variety of areas, including consumer law, domestic and family law, tax law, and housing and public benefits issues. Additionally, LASC works to address widespread issues through impact litigation. While working at LASC I served as a member of the housing division. By working closely with clients and co-workers, I developed a deeper understanding of the need for legal aid services, as well as an appreciation for the complexity of administrative agencies.
By working with clients and assisting staff attorneys on court appearances, I learned about the dramatic need for legal aid services. What struck me about clients’ experiences was not the poor quality of their dwellings, but rather the swiftness of the legal response to a landlord’s request for eviction. During my first visit to eviction court, the presiding magistrate called the parties forward, exchanged a few quick words, and hurriedly decided the case. Less than a minute after hearing their name called, some defendants found themselves homeless. By commenting on the pace of the magistrate’s decision, I do not suggest a failure of our legal system to care for its population. Rather, I highlight the need of many who are facing legal action to secure assistance. Some clients who sought counsel from LASC wisely kept journals of their landlord-tenant interactions and others took pictures of the conditions of their apartments. The majority, however, never expected to face legal action and kept few records. Often LASC attorneys researched a client’s complaint and found sufficient evidence to stop an eviction. If those clients represented themselves, they would not have known which documents to request from a landlord or how to present their own cases. While many people navigate the legal system independently, LASC provides vital services that protect individuals’ rights by helping busy magistrates to make informed decisions.
In addition to identifying how LASC affects individuals’ rights, working with LASC introduced me to administrative law and deepened my understanding of how state agencies deliver services. Attorneys at LASC regularly interact with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA). After seeing numerous clients who complained of the same issue regarding CMHA’s execution of its administrative plan, LASC attorneys requested information regarding an agency’s obligation to follow its own policies. The assignment challenged me to delve into administrative law and to read dozens of opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court and from Federal Appellate Courts. The experience complemented my direct service work by pushing me to research and write about an unsettled issue. Through this process, I developed my ability to read and write analytically.
Working at LASC prepared to apply my experience in subsequent law courses and to enter the legal community with a more realistic sense of the profession. By allowing me to explore both direct service work and impact litigation research, LASC offered me opportunities to grow as a student and as a practitioner.
Michael Batchelder – Ohio Legal Rights Service (Columbus Bar Foundation Fellow)
Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS) is an independent agency of the state of Ohio. It is designated under federal law as the system to protect and advocate the rights of people with disabilities and as the Client Assistance Program under the Rehabilitation Act. I served as a law clerk with OLRS after my second year of law school. As a law clerk I was primarily responsible for researching and drafting legal memorandum and legal documents regarding questions of federal and state disability law.
One unique research experience was where OLRS was monitoring the state of Ohio’s Department of Education (ODE) for its compliance with a court order which required it to revise its practices under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A major school district sent OLRS hundreds of pages of documents in compliance with the order. It was my responsibility to review the documents and determine if there were any instances which might have revealed a failure of ODE to comply with the court order. I identified missing information and also reviewed the law so that OLRS could hold ODE accountable for its failure to comply with the order.
In addition to research and writing assignments I was assigned to research and advise whether a client had legal standing to pursue an administrative hearing under the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP). This provided me with an opportunity to have bottom line responsibility for a client’s case. I had to become familiar with the HCVP regulations, work closely with the client to develop the facts and then counsel her as to the best strategy. Ultimately we were able to settle the matter prior to the formal hearing.
One other unique experience involved site visits to state psychiatric hospitals. The purpose of the visits were to ensure that these facilities were complying with the law in their treatment of those individuals with disabilities who were under their care. In order to participate in the visit I needed to become familiar with the law on issues such as the appropriate use of restraints and seclusion in order to be able to determine whether any violations may be occurring. The visit also afforded me another opportunity to interact with our potential client base as a part of question and answer sessions designed to gather additional information about the facilities compliance.
T. Conrad Bower – Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Ohio
This summer, I worked as an extern in the Capital Habeas Unit of the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Ohio. The Columbus, Ohio office of the“CHU,” as it is referred to internally, was created in 2008 for the purpose of providing more effective direct representation to indigent defendants who have been tried, convicted and sentenced to death in Ohio. Habeas litigation is incredibly complex, but the process can be summarized as follows: once a defendant has exhausted all of his available avenues of appeal within the state court system of Ohio, and he has terminated all post-conviction proceedings, he is entitled to file a habeas petition in federal district court outlining any and all constitutional grievances that impacted his conviction or sentence of death.
I had the great opportunity this summer to work very closely with the Assistant Federal Public Defenders within the office. From the first day I arrived, I was given substantive research projects on issues of constitutional law, which most often culminated in the drafting of internal memoranda to the various attorneys, outlining my research and recommendations. Additionally, I not only cite-checked and edited the court filings of other attorneys, but drafted portions of legal memoranda for the district court, as well as the entire introductory section of an appellate brief in anticipation of appealing the district court’s decision to the Sixth Circuit.
Although my summer was research and writing intensive, I had the opportunity to attend proceedings outside of the office as well. In June, I helped prepare for and attend a clemency hearing for one of our clients before the Ohio Adult Parole Board. In July, the attorneys and externs worked feverishly in preparation for a Temporary Restraining Order hearing before the district court. The hearing (which last 10 hours) concerned ongoing § 1983 civil litigation that had been filed against the state of Ohio in 2004 alleging improprieties in its lethal injection protocol that deprived inmates under sentence of death of their constitutional rights. As we would come to learn a few weeks after the hearing, the district court granted our motion for TRO, preliminary injunction and stay of execution! The injunctive relief, based on violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, is the first of its kind nationwide, and it has the potential to preclude further executions under Ohio’s current execution framework.
I had an incredibly fulfilling summer working at the Capital Habeas Unit. Because so much of my work involved researching constitutional issues and preparing court filings, I saw great development in my legal researching and writing skills over the course of the summer. I worked with thoughtful, creative attorneys who zealously advocated for a collectively unpopular group in our society. To be able to endure this type of work on a daily basis, seeing their clients killed by the state with alarming regularity, was incredibly eye opening for me. I also had the unbelievable fortune to witness a great victory for all clients on death row in Ohio. Shortly after we informed our client that he would not be executed by the state in four days, we received a hand-written note at the office thanking us for working diligently to save his life. Knowing that we provided our client with additional time to find peace and to spend time with his family was such a rewarding feeling.
I am indebted to PILF and its officers for affording me the opportunity to participate in such a valuable summer experience. Thank you.
Kathryn Mayer – Legal Counsel for Tonawanda Seneca & Tuscarora Nations
This summer I had the opportunity to serve as a Legal Intern for the General Counsel to the Tonawanda Seneca and Tuscarora Nations. Both Nations are located near Buffalo, New York, and are two of only four American Indian Nations in the United States that still sit in their traditional governing form. This means members of the Nation do not elect their Chiefs, but rather the Chiefs are selected using traditional methods. Both Nations refuse most federal entitlement funds and avoid signing contracts containing entanglement language. While the two Nations are separate clients for my boss, each with their own distinct identity and customs, they both very much live according to their traditional teachings and desire minimal involvement with federal and state government.
As General Counsel, my boss handled all legal issues for both Nations in a way that that ensured protection of each Nation’s sovereignty and reflected their unique cultural beliefs and traditions. As a Legal Intern, I attended Longhouse strategy meetings between my boss and the Tuscarora Chiefs, as well as multi-Nation meetings between the Tonawanda Chiefs and my boss, and the Chiefs and General Counsel from the other Six Nations Seneca Nations. I also saw my boss act as lead negotiator for government contract agreements between the Nations and different Federal Bureaus. On occasion I attended relevant state court hearings and wrote memos about what happened during the hearing.
I was also given two specific projects – one for each Nation. For the Tonawanda Nation, I sifted through the language of the 2010 Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT Act) to find all possible federal roadblocks to Nation to Nation tobacco trade of Native brand products, as well as identified opportunities in the language that could be used to show it was not intended to apply to Native brand products. Using this information, I strategically analyzed different trade routes to see which best minimized their risk of having their tobacco trucks seized, and helped reduce the chance of Tonawanda drivers having criminal charges brought against them for failure to comply with the PACT Act.
My project for the Tuscarora Nation presented a different challenge. The Tuscarora Nation was recently awarded land in a settlement agreement with a state power agency. In order for the Nation’s sovereign rights to reach the settlement land, the land must legally become “Indian land.” The Tuscarora Nation is one of the few American Indian Nations in the United States that hold their land in fee, and as such they refuse to see their settlement land become trust land. However, the Code of Federal Regulations only discusses the creation of American Indian land in terms of trust land. To remedy this flaw with the C.F.R., some New York State Senators want to propose legislation that will apply the current C.F.R. sections governing trust land creation to the creation of American Indian fee land. To speed up the process my boss was contacted and asked to write up a document detailing the history of the issue, and to provide research showing that if the C.F.R. sections on trust land creation applied to American Indian fee land, the Tuscarora settlement lands would meet the current standards and guidelines set forth in the C.F.R. provisions and could be made into “Indian land.” My task was to go through the applicable C.F.R. sections and documents from the settlement agreement in order to provide some of this research.
I had an incredible experience for the first time truly saw how my legal education ties into my desire to work to further justice for American Indian communities. I am incredibly thankful for my PILF Fellowship, and all those who made my experience possible.
Nicole Chatham – Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Ohio
I spent this past summer working for the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Columbus. The Capital Habeas Unit (CHU) represents indigent defendants facing capital sentences in their federal habeas and clemency proceedings. In addition, the CHU is also involved in ongoing litigation against the State of Ohio, challenging the constitutionality of its lethal injection protocol.
While at the CHU, I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects with several supervising attorneys. Specifically, I prepared an office memorandum on the scienter requirement for Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims brought under § 1983. The memo was generated to assist a supervising attorney in preparation for a TRO Hearing that resulted in a stay of execution for one of our clients. I also assisted in preparing objections to a magistrate’s report and recommendations on a habeas petition, which were filed in federal district court. It was both exciting and a little nerve-racking to know that something I wrote would be presented to a federal judge.
In addition to my work in the CHU office, I had the opportunity to attend district court proceedings and a clemency hearing on behalf of one of our clients. Not only were these out-of-office opportunities great learning experiences, but they also cemented my high opinion of the work done by the Federal Public Defender’s office. The people I worked with were passionate about their work and committed to helping their clients. It was great to be part of such a motivated and talented team.
My time at the CHU would not have been possible if I had not received a PILF Fellowship. After getting married at the beginning of the summer, my bank account was pretty dry. The PILF Fellowship allowed me to go to work everyday in an exciting and challenging environment, and it allowed me to eat dinner afterwards! I know I am returning for a second year of law school with practical experience under my belt, in large part because PILF helped me financially over the summer.
Allison Tuesday – Supreme Court of Ohio
I spent summer of 2011 interning at the Supreme Court of Ohio thanks to a Public Interest Fellowship from the Public Interest Law Foundation. I worked in the Case Management Section of the Judicial and Court Services Division.
At the Supreme Court, I worked on several different projects. First, I helped edit and develop benchcards and chapters for the Domestic Relations Manual. This publication will be available to Ohio judges and magistrates in order to assist them while they are presiding over domestic relations cases. It is intended that the manual will be available on the Supreme Court website. Similarly, I edited dependency benchcards, which will also be made available to Ohio judges and magistrates. The editing for these publications involved a considerable amount of legal research.
Additionally, I did some work that involved the Interpreter Services Section of the Judicial and Court Services Division. I co-wrote a script for an informative video on legal terminology. This video will hopefully be produced and used to teach court interpreters about the legal system and terminology. The script included other materials such as diagrams and examples of a real case.
Moreover, I assisted my supervisor in her visits to a probate court in Ohio in order to give advice on how to improve its case management system. I completed file reviews and conducted customer satisfaction surveys in order to collect data on the case management processes of the court. Lastly, I had great experiences observing court proceedings, including oral arguments at the Supreme Court of Ohio.
I really enjoyed my internship this past summer. I acquired legal knowledge about the Ohio rules in domestic relations and juvenile dependency cases. I also made many contacts and friends in the legal world, which led me to obtain another internship for this fall. Most of all, I feel like I was able to make a positive difference in the legal field by helping to improve the justice system. I am grateful to the Public Interest Law Foundation for providing me the opportunity to intern at the Supreme Court of Ohio for a few weeks longer than what my work-study assistance allowed.
Chenwei Zhang – Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law
I had the pleasure of spending my summer in New York City and working at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. The Brennan Center is a nationally-renowned nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on issues regarding democracy and justice. Part public interest law firm and part think tank, it promotes their issues through scholarship, legislation, and legal advocacy. As a legal intern for the Democracy Program, I was able to do a broad range of work that touched upon constantly-evolving areas such as campaign finance, redistricting, voting rights, and First Amendment issues in election law.
During the course of my internship, I was able to perform a wide variety of activities, from tracking and contributing to litigation to performing research and writing memoranda to sitting in on meetings and conference calls. One of my first assignments was to assist on an anti-prison-based gerrymandering lawsuit in which the Brennan Center and allied groups were trying to intervene (and has now successfully done so). By my second day, I was already staying late at the office helping to draft a reply brief under an urgent deadline. When the governmental body in charge of redistricting publicly announced that it was not going to abide by the law at issue in the litigation, I was give the initiative to write a demand letter on behalf of the Brennan Center and its co-counsel, sternly urging compliance with the law. The letter received local media attention, after which the redistricting committee announced that it would indeed follow the law.
I also helped contribute research and writing to a letter addressed to the Department of Justice, urging them not to grant preclearance to new and restrictive changes in Florida’s election law pursuant to § 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This was another letter that received media attention. One of my most significant memo assignments involved the novel issue of union employees’ political rights and whether the law from this area could be applied to help develop the budding area of corporate shareholder rights.
In addition to legal work, I was also able to attend informative summer events sponsored by the Brennan Center, including a lecture by Sec. Janet Napolitano on post-9/11 homeland security and a panel on Citizens United and campaign finance as it relates to judicial elections (which included Dahlia Lithwick, a former Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, and the plaintiff of the landmark Supreme Court case of Caperton v. Massey). Weekly brown bag lunches offered the opportunity to learn about the work of Brennan Center attorneys concentrating in civil rights as well as liberty and national security.
My summer at the Brennan Center was a fantastic opportunity to learn about how a non-profit effectively uses limited resources to shape the legal and policy landscapes of cutting edge issues, produce influential scholarship, and take on amazing legal opportunities such as presenting cases in front of the Supreme Court. Moreover, I was able to improve my own legal analysis and writing skills and indulge in my love for election law. The law governing democracy promotes public interest by its very nature, as it is all about achieving broad goals that progress beyond resolution of individual disputes. The Brennan Center impacts electoral reform in a concrete, meaningful, and influential manner. My summer experience at this dynamic organization would not have been possible without my fellowship, and for that I am deeply grateful to PILF.
Fair Park – Catholic Migration Office
Founded in 1971, the Catholic Migration Office (CMO) is a nonprofit organization located in New York that provides various services to underrepresented immigrants, in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate General in New York, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the New York State Department of Labor. Since its inception, CMO has served immigrants from more than 160 countries, who collectively speak more than 80 languages. In summer 2011, through the PILF fellowship program, I interned at CMO, concentrating on immigration law. I participated in CMO’s immigration clinic and assisted the Haitian community in applying for their temporary protected status (TPS).
The majority of clients who visit CMO, located in Sunnyside, NY, are Spanish speaking clients, representing immigrants from Latin America. Therefore, at the immigration clinic, my tasks consisted of conducting initial intakes and interpreting the words of Spanish speaking clients to the attorney. I also researched on various immigration law issues and wrote legal memoranda about 1) ethical issues concerning administrative filing of I-130 petition; 2) the definition and elements of coercion in the context of asylum application; and 3) the difference between motion to reopen and motion to reconsider in federal immigration system. Moreover, I assisted clients from Haiti in applying for their temporary protected status. The TPS application was valuable to these clients because the unstable political situation and the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti prevented them from returning to their home country.
I believe the internship opportunity at CMO served as an important steppingstone in further developing my background in public interest law, and the financial assistance from the PILF fellowship program served as an imperative source in completing my internship. Through the internship at CMO, I acquired important skills and knowledge in immigration law, which is an important area in public interest law. I thank PILF for providing me with the opportunity to complete my internship at CMO.
Amanda Kramer – Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
I spent my summer in Washington D.C. clerking for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER is a non-profit organization that encourages government accountability and scientific integrity by pursing environmental enforcement cases, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and appeals, and representing public employee whistleblowers in challenges of adverse employment actions. As a clerk at PEER, I had the opportunity to research enforcement questions under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as employment retaliation questions under the whistleblower protection provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).
During my clerkship, I worked primarily on a whistleblower defense case that was being presented before both the Department of Labor and the Merit Systems Protection Board. This afforded me the opportunity to learn about the administrative laws that govern the rights and privileges of public employees and provided great insight into the litigation process. I drafted numerous discovery requests, including document requests and interrogatories, Touhy requests, and a subpoena request, as well as a motion to compel and an opposition to a motion for protective order. The attorneys at PEER involved me in numerous strategy meetings, and I believe that this experience greatly enhanced both my substantive and procedural knowledge.
Additionally, I researched several environmental questions, including the legality of broad categorical exemptions from NEPA and the issuance of §404 nationwide permits under the CWA, in order to determine whether federal environmental laws were being properly enforced. I also filed FOIA requests to gain information on how the Environmental Protection Agency was handling certain hazardous waste sites and the actions being taken to recover them under CERCLA. I found this work particularly meaningful, because these issues have a significant effect on the health and safety of the environment.
The opportunity to serve as a law clerk for PEER allowed me to gain extensive experience in the fields of law in which I am most interested. I am happy to have had the chance to contribute to such a meaningful cause, while developing my legal skills and experiencing Washington D.C. Without PILF’s assistance, it would not have been possible for me to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and I am truly grateful for the organization’s support.
Megan Wintermantel – Children’s Law Center
In the United States, hundreds of thousands of children experience abuse and neglect every year, and many have their cases heard before the juvenile court. The court makes decisions that change children’s lives forever; the judge orders some children removed from their families and placed in foster care, while others are ordered reunified with their biological parents. Unfortunately, many children in our country remain unrepresented in these proceedings. Those lucky enough to be appointed counsel are often served by overworked attorneys who have little to no training in dependency law.
I clerked at the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles (CLC) this summer because I believe that all abused and neglected children should be assigned high quality legal representation. I decided to work in California this summer because California law requires that every abused, neglected, or dependent child be represented by counsel. As a law clerk, I was involved with cases from intake to trial. I interviewed children, prepared oral argument, and wrote points and authorities memos. Because I worked for the firm’s writ attorney, I was also able to assist with the firm’s appellate work by conducting legal research and drafting writs.
From my work at CLC, I developed my trial and appellate skills. Just as importantly, I learned the value of firms that specialize in the representation of children in dependency proceedings. CLC trains its attorneys on dependency law, child development, and child interviewing. Attorneys confer with one another to develop child advocacy strategies that make it more likely their clients will be best served by the court’s decisions. I will advocate for passage of laws in other states that require representation for all children; only when states provide funding to support child representation will firms like CLC be possible.
Marshall Slaybod – Legal Aid Society of Columbus
This summer I worked for the Legal Aid Society of Columbus in the consumer department. It was a rewarding experience, which allowed me to practice and refine my legal skills.
Much of my time was spent drafting motions and complaints. As part of the consumer department, many of the cases I worked on involved issues like foreclosure, debt collection, and wage garnishments. My first assignment was to draft a motion to strike.
In addition to drafting motions and complaints, I was charged with researching consumer law issues for various cases our attorneys were working on. Research was compiled and presented in a memorandum to the attorney whose case it was. Other times, I interviewed clients to obtain relevant facts to help build a case. Attorneys worked with me to ensure I was asking the questions I needed to get the information we were looking for.
Each week we had a department-wide case acceptance meeting. At these meetings we took turns presenting cases to the department to evaluate if we could help the client or if we should refer them elsewhere for proper services. Much of the research I had written memos about I also presented during these meetings to clarify the relevant law and help decide if we should take the case.
The working environment was very helpful and friendly. Everyone worked hard, but tried their best to enjoy themselves while doing it. It truly was a great summer experience.
Elizabeth Snyder – American Civil Liberties Union
This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter. The ACLU of PA is a non-profit organization that works to protect and defend individual rights and personal freedoms in the state of PA. As a local ACLU chapter, the culture of the office can be compared to that of a small litigation firm. The nature and culture of the office allowed me to work on a myriad of civil liberties issues ranging from prisoner’s rights to the ability of municipalities to limit public employee’s speech.
As a law intern, I conducted legal research regarding ongoing federal civil rights litigation and incoming civil liberties complaints. I was exposed to topics such as student’s free speech rights within the public school setting, prisoner’s rights, public employee’s free speech rights, true threats, and issues surrounding petition circulation on public property. In addition to the research I conducted on civil liberties, I was also exposed to other aspects of the law profession. My first assignment required research concerning filing a petition for attorney’s fees. During my time at the ACLU of PA, I learned about how public interest law firms are funded and about how important it is for all attorneys to maintain organized and reliable records.
An exciting aspect of working at the ACLU of PA included having the opportunity to attend educational seminars and legal committee meetings. The educational seminars allowed me to meet students and advocates in the Pittsburgh area with whom I shared similar interests and goals. These networking opportunities continued at legal committee meetings where attorneys from different practice areas came together to discuss pending ACLU cases and give their advice on litigation strategies.
Interning at the ACLU of PA was an incredible professional and educational experience. I was exposed to a wide range of legal topics and experiences. I am confident that I will apply the knowledge I gained this past summer throughout my legal career.
Chris Bordenave – ACLU/D.A.’s Office (Ohio State Bar Association Litigation Section Fellow)
As a law clerk at the ACLU of PA, I had to the opportunity to work on a myriad of legal topics in the field of civil liberties. Throughout this experience I was exposed to each step of litigation, from how a small firm decides what cases to accept, to filing a petition for attorney’s fees upon receiving a favorable judgment. In addition, I had the opportunity to attend educational seminars sponsored by the ACLU and legal committee meetings. At such events I was able to meet other legal professionals with whom I shared similar interests and goals. I am confident that I will apply the knowledge I gained this past summer throughout my legal career.
I clerked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in the Major Crimes Division. The division handles high profile cases (OJ Simpson/Phil Spector type of trials). I researched, wrote motions, and organized a forty notebook murder book (collection of evidence in a murder case). These experiences taught me the many nuances of trial preparation. Whether answering a discovery request or researching a motion, the preparation for trial reaches from practical to complex. Each step is paramount to the success of any case.
The DA’s office allowed substantive legal education and practical field experience. Law clerks visited the Los Angeles Regional Crime Laboratory shared by the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, and Cal State University of Los Angeles. Clerks were allowed to view 3D computer and miniature models of crime scenes. The tour included the lab’s extensive gun catalogue. Some clerks were allowed to hold AK-47s and guns from the early 1900s. The DA’s office not only showed clerks the investigative portion of practice, but the grim consequences of breaking the law. Clerks were given the opportunity to tour Men’s Central Jail. The prison population gauged from thieves to murderers. We learned that prisoners are forced to wear different color uniforms to signify their danger level. The visited included a display of various weapons that inmates created from materials scavenged in prison (pants lining, trays, bed frames, etc.).
My experience at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office improved my legal skills and fostered Los Angeles based legal relationships. The relationship I formed with the assistant district attorney I clerked under will last past summer. I would recommend the clerkship to any law student interested in litigation or criminal law.
Katarina Karac – U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio
This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division. I spent the summer in Cleveland working with Honorable Randolph Baxter. My duties primarily consisted of research, writing memoranda, and drafting orders. I also had the opportunity to assist in deputy clerk duties by bringing the court to order on several occasions.
In addition to working with Judge Baxter, I really enjoyed spending a day with Chapter 13 Trustee and attend a § 341 Meeting of the Creditors. This experience allowed me to gain a different perspective on bankruptcy as trustees generally have different concerns in bankruptcy proceedings from the judges. Also, most of the time, debtors do not attend court hearings. Yet, they are required to attend the meeting of the creditors. Being at the meeting and listening to the individual stories about why debtor(s) were seeking what is often seen as “last resort” made bankruptcy come alive. A lot of hard working people end up filing due to unfortunate circumstances, and the bankruptcy courts can provide a fresh start.
As someone who is passionate about public interest especially on the side of consumer protection, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to partake in this summer internship program. PILF has not only allowed me to see the very real effect our economic state has had on families and businesses, but it also allowed me to work with a wonderful judge (he is now retired) who has truly been a public servant throughout his career.
Maya Ginsburg – Urban Justice Center
This summer I worked at the Urban Justice Center (UJC) in New York City. UJC serves New York City’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing. The Center assists clientele on numerous levels, such as one-on-one legal advice through clinics, helping individuals access housing and government assistance, filing class action lawsuits and bringing about systemic change.
UJC is composed of nine distinct projects. I spent my summer working for the Human Rights Project (HRP). The HRP is designed to promote policy change for the residents of New York City. The Project attempts to situate domestic poverty and discrimination issues within a human rights framework. HRP is one of only a few organizations in the United States working to analyze domestic social policy in this manner.
My time at UJC included research and writing policy papers that advocate for a higher standard of government accountability than U.S. legislation typically allows. By focusing on specific issues targeting workforce inequality such as pay equity, pregnancy discrimination and paid sick leave we hope to achieve awareness throughout the New York City community to educate and encourage advocacy for higher standards in the workforce. Throughout the summer I met with various advocacy groups throughout New York City who collaborated with us on the project. The documents I wrote will be circulated throughout advocacy groups and communities in New York City and eventually contribute to a publication by UJC on the issue of higher standards and equality to come out later this year.
Adam Young – Venturna County Public Defender
During the Summer of 2011, it was my honor and privilege to work as a volunteer law clerk for the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office in Ventura, California. Going into the summer, I admittedly did not know quite what to expect out of the experience. However, looking back I can confidently say that my time with the Public Defender’s office prepared me more than any other law school experience for the actual, day-to-day task of representing clients charged with serious criminal offenses.
My first day on the job, I was assigned to work with Ms. Denise McPeak – a career public defender whose enthusiasm and expertise made her an ideal mentor for a young attorney-to-be such as myself. Under Ms. McPeak’s watchful supervision, it was my job to assist in case preparation and litigation at all stages of proceedings. My duties included conducting client interviews and other investigative work, conducting legal research, reviewing evidence, drafting and filing pre-trial motions, assisting at court proceedings and much more.
The high point of my summer experience was personally arguing a Motion to Suppress on behalf of one of our clients – a disabled military veteran who was approached at random by police officers, and was ultimately charged with being under the influence of narcotics despite the fact that he possessed no narcotics, was not causing a disturbance, and cooperated fully with officers. Although my motion was denied, we were subsequently able to secure a plea deal for our client which allowed him to avoid jail time, and to receive rehabilitative treatment in Los Angeles County, where he lived. At the conclusion of the court proceeding, I personally drove our client to the train station so that he would not miss his ride home. It is basic human interactions like these which were perhaps most rewarding of all, and which I am confident I would not have experienced in many firms or more “traditional” summer placements.
In cases such as these, my time with the Public Defender’s office presented me with repeated opportunities to advocate on behalf of true justice, when clients of our office were charged with offenses which either did not fit their conduct or which they simply did not commit. In addition, working in Ventura County exposed me to the full range of recreational and cultural opportunities that southern California has to offer. From cruises down the Pacific Coast Highway, to hiking near Malibu, to attending an L.A. Galaxy game or a concert at the famous Greek Theatre – there was never a shortage of diversions if I needed something to take my mind off of the great responsibilities with which my position entrusted me.
While my summer experience gave me unparalleled insight into the day-to-day workings of the criminal justice system, none of it would have been possible without the fellowship funds I received from PILF. Across the country, public defender’s offices are facing unprecedented budget cuts and resource shortages, which threaten the Due Process rights of tens of thousands of indigent defendants charged with crimes every year. As I quickly learned, Ventura County was no different. Our office – like dozens of others around the country – relied on the hard work of volunteers like myself to continue functioning, and to be able to provide a competent and vigorous level of representation to all clients who qualified for our services. I am forever grateful to PILF, as well as to my supervisors in Ventura County, for giving me the opportunity to assist in such representation.
Stephanie Fitos – Ohio Poverty Law Center
This summer, I interned with the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC or the Center). Located in Columbus, the Center is a non-profit law office that pursues statewide policy and systemic advocacy in expand, protect, and enforce the legal rights of low income Ohioans. The attorneys at the Center focus on fighting for justice for all in a variety of legal areas including education, housing, consumer, health, family, and prisoner re-entry.
The Center also serves as the state support center to all legal aid & legal services offices in Ohio. This means that the attorneys at the OPLC assist direct services attorneys in Ohio in many ways. For example, OPLC coordinates and hosts skills and substantial poverty law trainings where direct services attorneys can learn more about how to assist their clients and sharper their legal advocacy skills. OPLC also provides statewide legislative and administrative advocacy and litigation support when legal aid programs around the state need extra assistance. OPLC also manages a statewide legal services websites where attorneys and Ohioans can access information about finding legal assistance and information. These are just a few of the ways OPLC makes in impact on the fight against poverty in Ohio.
My internship with OPLC allowed me to gain exposure to the many ways attorneys can work for justice even when not providing direct services to clients. I performed case research, and wrote memos updating the attorneys on new cases that could have an effect on how they approach certain issues. I assisted in an overhaul of an unemployment compensation manual that legal aid attorneys use to guide their clients through the administrative process of receiving unemployment benefits. I wrote articles that may be used by the Ohio State Bar Association for its “Law You Can Use” website; these articles explain certain legal issues in plain language, and are accessible to all who visit the website.
In addition to systemic advocacy, I did get to provide some direct service to clients. In addition to OPLC, the building where I worked also housed the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic for Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. Under the supervision of organization’s tax attorney, I interviewed two clients and wrote memos on issues to help the attorney prepare to represent the clients before the IRS. I also saw how attorneys can advocate outside of the walls of their offices. For example, I attended statehouse hearings and performed research on bills OPLC worked on, or took a position on, this legislative session. I got to attend conferences and coalition meetings as well; here, I saw how many organization around the state are working together to fight issues plaguing low-income Ohioans.
I really enjoyed my experience with OPLC. The attorneys are very passionate about what they do, and work hard to achieve equal justice through a variety of means. They and the administrative staff strive to create an inspirational, collegial environment for their summer interns. The interns are assigned meaningful projects that have an objective; the attorneys make it a point to explain to you how your work will fit in the overall picture. The attorneys also encourage the interns to sit in on meetings, taskforces, and conference calls. Most things on the calendar are open to all, and these experiences allowed me to see how attorneys are assisting clients and fighting poverty throughout the state. Outside of work, OPLC arranged brown bag lunch sessions and social functions with other legal aid attorneys and interns. I truly recommend that anyone looking for an engaging public interest internship apply with OPLC, and I thank the PILF Fellowship committee for providing me with the financial support needed to work with a non-profit over the summer!
Richard Muniz – American Civil Liberties Union
This summer, I interned at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York City. The ACLU, a nationwide nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, is the nation’s leading defender of our civil rights and liberties. Of its many projects, I interned in the Racial Justice Program, working to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to those that have been historically denied civil rights on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.
While at the national office, I was able to work on a variety of cases, at various stages, ranging from education to criminal procedure to housing discrimination to racial profiling and immigration. I worked on a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice against the state of Wisconsin for its role in maintaining a dual education system in the city of Milwaukee, which disproportionately segregated students with disabilities from one set of schools while giving students without disabilities a “choice” to attend voucher schools or public city schools. In addition, I worked on a few lawsuits seeking to restore due process guarantees of individuals who were unconstitutionally jailed for their inability to pay court fines—the present day’s debtor’s prison. Also, I helped on a few cases challenging Arizona SB 1070 copycat bills enacted in a handful of states this summer.
The bulk of my summer, however, was spent essentially writing another student note, which, hopefully, will turn into ground-breaking litigation. That project, which consumed my summer, focused on subprime and predatory mortgage lending. Another summer-long project involved surveying (anti-) racial profiling settlements and documenting how the organization can repeat previous victories in that area.
For those considering a position at the ACLU, whether as a summer legal intern, a legal fellow, or a staff attorney, or in public interest law in general, it should be no surprise that the ACLU is the crème de la crème of civil rights organization. It employs a massive litigation team working daily on racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant’s rights, criminal justice, national security, human rights, free speech, and more. That’s not to say that other organizations are not also amazing, of course (because they are).
Needless to say, I enjoyed my time there. The staff, which for the most part are young, supremely intelligent, and super mega nice, are rockstars. Working with them was incredible. But I think the best part of being there was having the satisfaction of knowing that you’re “do[ing] good,” as the PILF motto asks you do. I like to tell friends that I defended the Constitution this summer, while they did whatever—defended white collar criminals, I suppose. (The ACLU’s motto is “Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself.”) Working at the ACLU leaves you with a sense of accomplishment, pride, and happiness because the organization can—and does—defend all civil liberties for everyone. I’m very happy about the work I did there and the work of my co-interns and the staff. If that weren’t enough, being in New York City for the first time for 10 weeks was…awesome!
Sally Smeltzer – Ohio Public Defender
This summer I worked for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender (OPD) in Columbus, Ohio. The OPD’s office represents indigent convicted offenders on appeal and in post conviction matters. The OPD assists offenders who were wrongly convicted, were not given a fair trial, or had inefficient representation at trial. My experience this summer taught me how important it is for convicted offenders to have representation on appeal, even if they cannot afford to pay for an attorney. I had an amazing experience and learned an unimaginable amount of information in the field of public defense.
Throughout the summer I participated in a wide variety of projects with different divisions and attorneys in the office. I spent a majority of my time researching legal issues and writing memorandums. I researched case law on the exclusionary rule, allied defenses, inefficient representation, the right to decline probation, and receiving a longer sentence on retrial. I spent a lot of time finding either federal or Ohio cases to support an attorney’s legal argument. With each new project came a new and exciting area of the law. I learned a lot from digging into these hot legal issues, which are being argued in front of federal and Ohio courts.
I also assisted attorneys in preparing for oral argument in Ohio Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Ohio. I helped prepare by listing potential issues or questions, participating in mock arguments, and shepardizing cases. I was able to attend a number of oral arguments, including one at the Ohio Supreme Court. This experience was invaluable.
Additionally, I spent quite a bit of time digesting House Bill 86—which was passed this summer by the Ohio legislature—and summarizing important changes that affect OPD’s clients. The Intake Division at the OPD had to re-write their Intake Prison Packets, to reflect changes from HB 86. I assisted in finding the relevant changes and writing them in easy to understand language. The prison packets provide important information to convicted offenders about their sentences and how to appeal. Summarizing the changes for prisoners and getting them the information helps them understand the law and how it affects them.
My favorite part of the summer was when I was able to work directly with clients. I visited Ohio’s Intake Prison a number of times to work with OPD’s attorney who works there full-time. I participated in orientation meetings, intake interviews, and parole hearings. I also participated in a full Parole Board Hearing. These opportunities allowed me to get to know and understand OPD’s clients.
My experience this summer was very helpful and eye opening. It was the perfect opportunity to learn more about public defense and how attorneys serve indigent clients in the criminal justice system. The work public defenders do is very important. It was inspirational to see OPD attorneys stand up for clients’ rights and challenge our state and federal laws and their application. There were a couple of opinions released this summer in which the office won on the issues they argued. These wins will have a great effect on criminal defendants now and in the future. It was wonderful to be a part of this fight for justice.
Joshua Snowden – Legal Aid Society of Columbus
I spent this past summer working as a litigation support clerk for the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC). LASC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) law firm that provides high-quality legal representation to both low-income residents and senior citizens to Columbus citizens and other persons within the Central Ohio service area. LASC attorneys practice in an array of civil legal proceedings, including but not limited to, evictions, evictions, divorces, instances of domestic violence, federal tax disputes, wage garnishments, consumer matters, foreclosures, and car repossessions. Furthermore, LASC aims to address systematic problems affecting the poor and elderly through impact litigation.
By far my favorite part of working as a litigation support clerk at LASC was the opportunity to have a diversity of experiences. My supervising attorney provided assistance—be it strategizing, researching, or drafting memos—to attorneys from all practice areas that were dealing with complex suits and personally handled the most challenging cases before LASC, usually cases involving both state and federal causes of actions, and complicated appeals.
I greatly enhanced my research and writing skills by drafting memos on how to subpoena Facebook and other social media groups, child jurisdiction laws and home-state statuses, debt settlement scams, and oral leases in perpetuity. For the latter, we were representing an unemployed forty-nine-old woman whose bigoted mother was attempting to evict her daughter from her home on account of the fact that the daughter had African American friends. In her case (and with five other cases throughout the summer), I helped see the case through from start to finish: I conducted client interviews and often home visits, prepared the client for court, researched the legal issues and drafted a memo and/or pleadings, and attended court with my supervising attorney. In addition to writing memos and working on cases that involved extensive client interaction, I helped assemble the LASC and statewide legal services significant litigation reports. These documents chronicle the cases that attorneys utilize to foster collaboration as they work on similar cases.
LASC attorneys made the summer clerks feel included by facilitating many group events and luncheons. For example, we would have bimonthly happy hours following work where clerks and attorneys would socialize and exchange law school and practice stories. We attended a downtown luau, had a three-on-three clerk and attorney basketball tournament, and played games during lunch breaks. I believe that the connections I made with my fellow clerks and several attorneys will be lasting.
In today’s crippled, unpredictable economy, those affected the worst are the poor and elderly, individuals who now have even fewer resources to be able to tackle the legal problems they face. LASC (and most legal services, for that matter) must dedicate all of its resources to assisting these persons and cannot thus pay summer clerks. As an out-of-state student, the PILF Fellowship allowed me to have all of these awesome experiences with LASC while simultaneously being able to pay my summer expenses. I am thrilled to be a member of an organization that recognizes the value of supporting law students who, without pay, desire to advocate on the behalf of low-income individuals and senior citizens.