Summer 2016 Fellows

Kelsey RiffleStudent Bar Association Fellow – Fairfield County Prosecutor

Injustice is no respecter of persons, a reality I learned first-hand after a life-changing trip to Africa. So I returned home and came to law school to fight for victims from all walks of life, an often over-looked group of individuals who deserve the most from our criminal justice system. Along the way, I fell in love with criminal prosecution and it has become the perfect fit to pursue my interest in criminal law and my passion for victim’s rights. My PILF fellowship gave me the opportunity to return to the Fairfield County Prosecutor’s Office for a second summer. Working in a prosecutor’s office for two summers has given me the chance to learn techniques from brilliant prosecutors, gain exposure to a vast array of legal issues, and be party to the interactions between the state, law enforcement, victims, defendant’s, defense attorneys, and the court, among others. It takes a village to pursue justice and be sure that voices are heard—a village that my PILF fellowship gave me the privilege to partake in for the summer—a village that I would love to be a permanent part of someday.

Allie JohnstonOhio Public Defender

Thanks to a PILF Fellowship I was able to work at the Office of the Ohio Public Defender this summer. This money this provided allowed me to pay my bills while working at this important position in the appeals and post-conviction section. While there I gained invaluable legal experience researching legal issues, drafting motions, creating transcript digests, and more. Further, working in this environment was rewarding as it allowed me to impact multiple lives by aiding indigent clients through various post-conviction processes. This internship also exposed me to a highly interesting field of law, particularly criminal defense. This experience would not have been possible without the aid of a PILF Fellowship, something I am exceptionally thankful for.

Madison MackayLegal Assistance Foundation of Chicago

Working with the Immigrant and Workers’ Rights practice group at LAF in Chicago exposed me to a clientele that had some of the most sensitive and emotionally moving cases I had ever experienced in this line of work. Specifically, LAF in general, due to funding restrictions, must limit its representation to clients that fall 150 percent below the federal poverty line. For the IWR practice group, there is an exception to this restriction for victims of crime and/or human trafficking. For this reason, our clients often came to us in dire need of legal services that would affect multiple facets of their life.

A couple weeks before my time ended with LAF, a client came to us through our medical referral program that informs low-income medical assistance recipients in Cook County of the potential legal services LAF can provide. A man with severe medical needs that he could not afford given his undocumented immigration status came to our office as the victim of a recent crime. Our immigration project specializes in U and T Visas for undocumented immigrants, which provide status to those individuals that have been the victims of crime or human trafficking and have cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of those crimes. My supervising attorney, at that point, had a full case load and informed me that we could only accept this man’s case if I could complete all of the necessary work before my two weeks ended.

I was determined to not let this man’s deserving case fall to the wayside and I went to work meeting with him multiple times (in Spanish, which he greatly appreciated) and putting in significant hours on his applications. Getting to tell the client that we were going to take his case and that I would be personally responsible for getting it together gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and purpose for my time that summer, even if it came at the end. In the back of my mind, however, I knew that resources like ours are limited and not everyone with similar cases such as this client’s receive the help they need. Which is why when those resources can be stretched a little further with my help, I know that it has a lasting impact.

Kelsey MullenFederal Public Defender, Capital Habeas Unit

This summer, I worked as a legal extern for the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio in the Capital Habeas Unit (CHU). This opportunity allowed me to work on a variety of different projects for various clients. I was primarily reviewing files for potential ineffective assistance of counsel claims, drafting pleadings, and compiling information from client records. One of the highlights of my summer was meeting with several of the clients and speaking with them about their cases. I felt as though the work I was doing was not only meaningful and something I truly cared about, but very educational. I was able to improve on my legal research and writing skills while learning from attorneys and legal professionals who are incredibly knowledgeable and willing to help. I am so thankful for the PILF Fellowship that made this experience possible, and I am so happy I was able to spend my summer as a CHUtern.

Meg SullivanOhio Legal Aid Foundation Fellow- Legal Aid

This summer, with the help of my PILF Fellowship, I had the opportunity to work as a law clerk in the Domestic Division at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC). As a well-established, non-profit law firm, LASC serves the civil legal needs of low income and elderly individuals and families throughout Central Ohio. It was truly rewarding to know that as a rising second year law student, I was personally helping members of society who are traditionally underrepresented. Although I was hesitant at first, unsure whether I would enjoy working in the very personal and intimate realm of family law, I soon found a passion for it.

My position at LASC was significant to my growth as a future practitioner of the law because I gained a great deal of experience that I feel I likely would not have gained at a large private law firm. I worked side by side with my supervising attorney: assisting with depositions and the discovery phase, attending hearings and status conferences, and drafting witness affidavits and motions. At the end of my time at LASC, I had the chance to sit at trial table with my supervising attorney and our client for her contested custody trial. When I heard my attorney introducing me on the record and describing me to the judge as “vital in the preparation of this case,” I felt a surge of pride for what I accomplished and the amount of work that I put into the case. The client, who is only a few years older than me and yet had been through more hardship than I might experience in a lifetime, turned to me and put her hand on mine below the table for a second. She was smiling, despite her anxiety about what the court would determine to be best for her and her child. That moment was memorable not only because it was great to be recognized by my professional superiors, but also because I realized how invested I had become in our client and in her
case. The client recognized my passion and respected me for it, and nothing could be more rewarding than that.

Melissa LenzColumbus Bar Foundation Fellow- Legal Aid

This past summer, I worked for the Housing Unit at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, where I helped low-income clients with their disputes with landlords. This experience was not only educational but also extremely rewarding. My primary job was helping clients to write letters to their landlords, asking them to make repairs in the client’s rental unit. I also educated these tenants about their rights under Ohio law and wrote memos on landlord-tenant issues which the Legal Aid attorneys will be able to use in their future cases.

In this role, I realized how fulfilling public interest work can be. With every letter I wrote, I was able to help a client take a step toward living in better conditions. This clerkship allowed me to do some of the most meaningful and impactful work of my life, so I feel very lucky to have been able to work at Legal Aid this summer. If I had not received the PILF fellowship, I would not have been able to afford to pursue this opportunity. I came to law school believing that I wanted to work in public interest, and after this summer, I am more confident than ever. I am very grateful for the PILF fellowship.

Madison BerryOhio Poverty Law Center

Marla TrinidadLegal Aid Society, Harlem, NY

The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice works to improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers by helping vulnerable families and individuals obtain and maintain the basic necessities of life—housing, health care, food and subsistence income or self-sufficiency. The program aims to enhance family and community stability and security by resolving a full range of legal problems, including domestic violence, family law, immigration, employment, and consumer law issues. The Civil Practice operates out of a network of 16 neighborhood and courthouse-based offices in all five boroughs and 22 specialized units and projects.
This summer, I worked with three specific Civil Practice projects: (1) Single Stop, an outreach program during which I helped attorneys provide legal advice to community members at 10 sites throughout New York City. Each site is specifically chosen to reach out to families within their own neighborhoods and at locations where they already receive other social or child-care services. (2) The Pinnacle Project, a class action housing settlement, for which I called tenants with the potential of benefiting from individual claims. (3) The Disability Advocacy Project, which assists adults and children in obtaining benefits (e.g., disability, retirement) under the Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Programs. The Society represents children and adults with their applications, administrative hearings, and court appeals, and gives advice and counseling. Throughout the summer, I worked directly with clients, researched legal issues, wrote legal documents, investigated and reviewed facts and evidence, and advocated to various city agencies on behalf of clients, focusing on cases of housing law and disability appeals. A memorable experience was, under the supervision of an attorney, I even got to represent a client during a Social Security hearing—having spent all summer requesting and reviewing medical records, interviewing the client and necessary witnesses, and then advocating for the client during the hearing itself.
The Legal Aid Society is a private, not-for-profit legal services organization, the oldest and largest in the nation, dedicated to providing quality representation to low-income New Yorkers. The Society handles 300,000 individual cases and matters annually and provides a comprehensive range of legal services in Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Rights Practices. The Society’s Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices are constitutionally mandated, thus supported by the government. The Civil Practice relies heavily on private contributions and volunteer interns. The Public Interest Law Foundation Fellowship helped me survive, and even thrive, in New York City, promoting public interest and helping those who are in most need of legal services.

David HendersonFranklin County (Missouri) Public Defender

I spent my summer interning at the Franklin County Public Defender’s office in Union, Missouri. While volunteering here, PILF was generous enough to grant me a fellowship, which helped tremendously with my expenses. I am deeply grateful.

My time here, though brief, was rewarding and unique. It’s been an experience I won’t soon forget. One memory in particular sticks out. I joined the office during a particularly intense battle between the PD’s office and the prosecutors. The Prosecuting Attorney’s office had just instituted a policy of not offering plea recommendations unless and until defendants waived their constitutionally-protected preliminary hearing. Needless to say, our office disagreed with this policy.

I wrote a memo to the Circuit Court judge explaining the prosecutor’s new policy, how detrimental it is to defendant’s rights, and how it would not achieve the pronounced goal of increasing judicial economy. The judge agreed, and the policy was discontinued.

I’ve learned that sometimes small victories are sweeter than windfalls. I’ve learned that working for people who need help, rather than those who can buy help, is more rewarding. And I’ve learned that the Public Defender system is where I want to spend my career.

Katy ShanahanCampaign Legal Center, Washington, D.C.

Before attending law school I worked in politics on a number of candidate and issue campaigns and specifically chose to attend Moritz because of its Election Law program, intending to pursue a career in election and voting rights law after graduation. Thanks in part to the PILF Fellowship, I was able to work at the Campaign Legal Center, which is a nonpartisan non-profit organization in Washington, DC that works to protect the democratic process in the areas of voting rights, campaign finance, government ethics, and political communication. The CLC works in the courts, with regulatory agencies, and with legislative bodies to ensure that our most fundamental rights to vote and to participate in the democratic process freely are protected. One of their more recent cases included representing the plaintiff voters in Texas who challenged the state’s racially discriminatory voter identification law. Due in part to the CLC’s representation, the law was struck down and hundreds of thousands of voters will be given the opportunity to freely cast their ballot in this November’s election.

The past few years of my political work and the recent decision from the Supreme Court on an integral section of the Voting Rights Act have focused my passion to protect the right to vote and made it clear to me that this is not a dedication with which I will soon part. Working at the CLC this past summer gave me the opportunity to work in a different facet of the democratic process than I have previously and the PILF Fellowship helped make that possible. I hope to build on the experience I had at the CLC when I graduate in May and I am thankful for the PILF Fellowship for allowing me the opportunity to spend the summer doing such meaningful work.

Alison BuzzardOffice of the Ohio Public Defender

My experience at the Ohio Public Defender-Appeals and Postconviction Divison was everything I had hoped for in a summer experience. Public defense is a profession that demands passion and a willingness to fight for clients, many of whom have few other people in their lives advocating for them. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to contribute to this cause this summer by taking on projects involving racial injustice in sentencing, incorrectly determined jail time credit, and various work related to clients’ appeals.

Attorneys at the OPD provided us interns countless opportunities to get hands-on experiences, learning about the frustrations and rewards of public defense. I am forever grateful to the OPD team, who have shown pure passion in their work, as well as generosity in sharing their expertise both in the office and the courtroom. Likewise, many thanks to PILF for generously funding my summer and allowing me to take the first step in pursuing a legal career in public interest.

Gabby ColavecchioFederal Public Defender, Capital Habeas Unit

Quinn Dybdahl – Franklin County Probate Court

During my summer at the Franklin County Probate Court, I saw first hand how the law touches upon each and every person. Probate court handles issues that the average person encounters – birth, adoption, marriage, guardianship, name changes, death, and more. Because of this, each person that comes to the court is different, and has varying knowledge of how the legal process works. Some are represented, but many are pro se. The legal process can be daunting and frustrating for many people who simply want to move on with their life. This creates an interesting environment that demands empathy, and patience. With these demands, the magistrates must be flexible and quickly problem-solve any issues that developed. In this, I saw how much their actions truly served public interest. It wasn’t about the magistrate’s title or authority, but simply about helping individuals trying to navigate a complex legal system.

The probate court has to intercede and interpret what was in an individual’s, and the public’s best interest. I saw this many times in relation to guardian appointments and terminations. The court had to decide whether a potential ward needed a guardian, and if so, who that guardian would be. I sat in on a four-hour hearing where a 90 year old was fighting for his right to maintain independent without an appointed guardian. The applicant desiring to be his guardian, a family member, worried that the potential ward would be financially exploited, as had previously happened, if a guardian was not appointed. The magistrate had to make a difficult ruling as to what was the best interest of the elderly man. This decision is so different than other areas of the law. It was not based upon what evidence was or was not allowed in the hearing. It was not based on which attorney provided a more convincing argument. It was truly based on what was needed to protect the potential ward. This hearing, and many other experiences at the court, expanded and affirmed my interest in probate. I learned that the probate court truly is the people’s court. I’m incredibly grateful for the PILF Fellowship that allowed me to have this experience.

Jimmy StaleyMontgomery County Prosecutor

During my summer internship at the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, I was able to hone many practical skills required of a prosecuting attorney. I wrote memoranda and motions that were filed in trial court, interviewed witnesses, researched and drafted briefs for appellate cases, and conducted a thorough review of sentencing guidelines. I had the opportunity to attend multiple high profile trials, including 4 murder trials, and various appellate oral arguments. My time at the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office was incredibly important for me as it provided me valuable insight to the type of career I hope to pursue post-graduation.

Ben FogleLegal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati

I parked at the Horseshoe Casino (later Jack’s Casino) for free all summer, because their parking garage was so big it was not economical to tow anybody. It was only three or four blocks away from the little red building in downtown Cincinnati which housed the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, and other public interest organizations. It was there that I worked for about eleven weeks.

Besides the research, the memos, and the trial prep, there were the clients. There was an old veteran who had been irradiated during the Manhattan Project in the 1940s (we didn’t know any better back then), and now sought VA benefits. We could not sufficiently connect his injuries to radiation without expert witnesses. There was a 16-yr old girl who walked to Texas from El Salvador, to escape violence and poverty, only to be nabbed by the feds. We got her a green card. I, my supervisor, and my supervisor’s supervisor, all fought against various school districts who did not want to accept unaccompanied immigrant children into their schools (this project was the bulk of my research for the first half of my internship). Then, I was recruited to help with divorces and custody cases. I called clients and conducted divorce interviews, and these were difficult, for we did not take divorces unless there was some accompanying problem of domestic violence or the like. The women we helped had been through a lot, and so the interviews were often accompanied by tears, and always accompanied by painful stories. There were some custody cases where, for the first time in my life, my Spanish classes came in handy. One Spanish-speaking client was in danger because we could not get a protection order against her crazy ex-husband. We could not get a CPO because the police could not serve him, even though he was in jail! When he got out, the police could not find him. Our client was saved when, ironically, her husband was nabbed by the feds and deported.

The anecdote that stands out in my memory the most is a client visit we conducted at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, as part of our Child Help program, which provided a system for client referrals between the hospital and Legal Aid. The client was a single mother, balancing two babies in her lap, with a third child sitting next to her. She was doing a consultation with us while simultaneously getting both of her babies check-ups and vaccinations. Thus, it was me, my boss, two nurses, and a doctor all in this cramped room, trying to accomplish these things at the same time, with the client managing it all with a masterful hand. The consultation was in regards to her housing conditions: walls caked with mold, with an infestation of roaches, fleas, and termites, and yet the landlord was refusing to do anything about it. From her responses to our questions, it was clear she lived in abject poverty, and I could not believe that she managed to take care of those babies. But what struck me most was the third child—the older sister. Amid all the chaos and yelling and baby-swapping that was happening in that room, she was reading. She was reading the same kind of book I read when I was her age (elementary school), while managing to tune out what was happening around her. This innocuous event occupied my thoughts for the rest of the summer—the image of the little girl reading in the hospital room while the babies cried and the mother managed. From the look of concentration on her face, and the rate at which she turned the pages (she was fast for her age), I could already tell that she was smart. She was not going to be trapped in the cycle of poverty that hung over her like a cloud; this thought gave me optimism for the future.

I thought about the spectrum of humanity that I encountered this summer, about all the people who had slipped through society’s cracks and came to us for help. The realization that for a few weeks I had been a string in the weave of the social safety net gave me pride, but it is still not enough. I am not finished. This summer has reaffirmed my commitment to the public interest, and I plan to volunteer at Columbus Legal Aid during the school year.

Jonathan BeshearsSoutheastern Ohio Legal Services