Monthly Archives: February 2012

Crim Prosecution Clinic in the Blogs

So I know I keep talking about the “Criminal Prosecution Clinic” that I’m doing through the law school and in conjunction with the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, but it is by far the best experience I’ve had in all of my wonderful time at Texas Wesleyan School of Law.  I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to be on this team of just seven students.  Daily we are working with many of the best and brightest attorneys in the north Texas, if not in the whole state of Texas.  In my opinion, what makes the clinic experience so valuable is the opportunity we get to watch other  attorneys do what they do; this is really the only way to learn the art of lawyering.

Our class was recently visited by the DA’s Public Information Officer who subsequently gave our clinic a bit of a “shout out”  on the Tarrant County DA’s website.  The blog entry gives a little more background on our clinic, what we’ve done, where we’ve gone and the prosecutors with whom we work.  The blog includes a pic of us at our class this last Wednesday where we learned about voir dire and picking a jury.  There are way more layers and complexities to that than I ever expected.

I’ m really proud to be associated with this team; I think we’re pretty awesome and I know the work done by the Tarrant DAs is top-notch. Every day that I’m there I learn something new and have the opportunity to see how true professionals handle the day-to-day of practicing criminal law.  It is truly fascinating.

While there is no doubt in my mind that I could not fully appreciate what I’m seeing and doing now without a fundamental understanding of the basics I learned at the beginning of law school (Read:  Do well in 1L year Crim Law and Procedure), I have to say:  It is GOOD to be a 3L.  The lessons I’m learning and experiences I’m having in this clinic are  invaluable to those of us nearing the end of our time in law school.  This is where it’s at!

While they have not yet pushed us fully out of the nest, through Tex Wes Law and the Tarrant County DA’s office, we’re sure getting a chance to stretch our legal wings and get our feet wet!

My student bar car is burning a hole in my pocket…

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Domestic Violence

I am so loving my “job” at the DA’s office.  Before getting in and trying it out, I hadn’t ever thought about being a trial lawyer/litigator, but the more I’m there, the more I can see it as a career path that would satisfy every facet of who I am.

Of course, the initial draw for me is that working for a governmental entity is familiar and comfortable.  Including this placement, I’ve worked for multiple state agencies, a municipality and now a county government.  Clearly, I know the environment in which I fit, but what has surprised me is how exciting it’s been for me to be in and around the courthouse and judges and lawyers.  These people roll their sleeves up daily to crank out the work that shapes the legal landscape and resolves societal issues one case at a time.

So far I’ve not done anything too earth-shattering:  drafted certain state’s motions, researched defendants’ criminal histories, drafted enhancement notices to  defense attorneys, sat in on a victim interview, watched plea bargain negotiations and portions of direct and cross examinations of witnesses in court, prepared trial notebooks and grand jury summaries.  But, what I have done a lot is talk to the attorneys and ask questions.  This is by far one of the most valuable aspects of going behind the scenes in the DA’s office.  I know that the goal is to get us to take more active roles in the weeks to come and ultimately getting us into a trial as a student attorney.  I am terrified and exhilarated all at once!

BUT…some of what I’m seeing at the DA’s office does leave me with more questions than answers, though.   I guess they forget that an outsider’s perspective is different from the one they’ve developed over time.   For example, I recently worked on a case we were prepping for trial (domestic violence) and after having read through all the file I had my mind set that this was going forward.  Then, on the day the case shows up on the docket, the IP (injured person) is there in court stating that she wants to drop the charges.   She’s gone to the DEFENDANT’s attorney and signed an affidavit stating as much! 

I am quietly stunned.  I read the reports, more compelling, I saw the pictures–those sad, sad pictures, were burned in my head.  While part of me wants to grab this person by the shoulders and yell, “Why??  Why??”  the only thing I can do is sit back and observe how the ADAs (Assistant District Attorneys) handle this.  Turns out, this is “normal.”  In fact, more often than not, this is the result of many more domestic violence cases than you would think.  That blew my mind.

There must be a point when doing that job you realize that  you can’t save everyone.  Once you accept that, you just have to let it go and not carry that around as your own personal baggage.  This is a painful lesson that I as a baby student lawyer am just realizing.  It’s kind of sad.  There is part of my mind that stubbornly wants to hold onto the fantasy that I can be THE person that makes the IP see the light that nobody has been able to show her  yet.  The other part of my brain, grounded in reality, already sees the writing on the wall.

As I sat there quizzing the ADA’s on this crazy dynamic between IPs and their abusers, that they (the ADAs) see ALL the time, it slowly sank in.   The frustration was evident in their body language and in their voices.  They are trained to right these wrongs and seek justice for the victims and when those they are charged with helping reject that help, what are they supposed to do?

I should point out that Tarrant County has a “No Drop” policy pertaining to domestic violence cases.  This means that just because the IP gives a statement to the defense attorney agreeing to drop the charges, doesn’t mean the State will agree.  If an IP wants to drop domestic violence charges they are required to attend a 4-hour course offered by SafeHaven  and then return to talk to an ADA about why they want the charges dismissed.

First off, I think if I were an IP and had to sit through a 4-hour lecture about the statistics of domestic violence victims I’d not be able get out of there without something “clicking” in my head.  But the IPs happily agree to jump through whatever hoops the State puts in front of them just so the charges get dropped.  They go to SafeHaven and then they show up in the office ready to say whatever it takes to the ADA so that everything will just go away.  I sat there and listened to one IP come up with one illogical reason after another to justify why what she initially reported as domestic violence was anything but that.  She told the police A to cover B because if they wanted to follow-up on B, they’d inevitably ask about C; therefore, D was the obvious choice.  WHAT?!?

At the end of the meeting, the ADA said she’d talk to defense counsel and see what they decided.  But really, if there were no other witnesses to the incident, what kind of case does the ADA have if the IP recants??  You see the dilemma.

After the IP left and I was able to process what happened I sat there shaking my head, incredulous.  One of the ADAs put it so poignantly:  You let these cases go, even when you don’t want to, and you hope and pray that the next time you see the Defendant it isn’t because he killed her.

A word to women:  Value who you are.  Know that you are worthy and that you are a treasure to be handled with care and love.  Define who you are and NEVER let someone tell you that you don’t deserve their best.  

SafeHaven can always use donations of time (volunteers), specific items for its clients, and of course, financial support.  Please consider sharing what you can.  If you want to donate, please do so….HERE.

Farewell, N.O.–Thanks for the Memories!

Wow, it’s taken me a few days to catch up with law school and life after my trip to the Big Easy.  I’ve gotten behind in my coverage and to this point had neglected to detail the last day of the Judicial Internship Program.  So, where was I?  Oh yes…Day 3.

Saturday was the last day of the conference and it was devoted to wrapping up our research assignment and presenting our final outline to the judges.  Our group was pretty happy with the results, as were our judges. We also got together and took group pictures to memorialize our time together.

Afterward, all the judges sat on a panel in front of the room and opened the floor to Q&A, which was really useful.  After several days of talking, networking and getting to know each other, questions from the audience of law students came easily.  All of us were way more comfortable with each other by this point.

Wrapping up the Program we all received personalized certificates for attending and said farewell to our new friends and the judges who so graciously donated their time to the ABA Judicial Clerkship Program.

We were then treated to a wonderful luncheon to witness the presentation of the 2012 Spirit of Excellence Awards.  These are prestigious awards given by the ABA to honor lawyers who have worked to promote more diversity in the legal profession.  All of the honorees gave such moving acceptance speeches and I, more than once, had to swallow a lump in my throat.  Of course, I could truly identify with the Honorable Petra Jimenez Maes when she spoke of becoming the first Hispanic female law student at the University of New Mexico School of Law. 

I couldn’ t help but feel humbled to be in the same room with someone whose struggles undoubtedly made my path to law school as a Hispanic female just a bit easier. It is truly amazing to be among such trailblazers and rebels who sacrificed a lot in order to gain equality and opportunity for those that followed in their footsteps.  It’s as if I’m standing on the shoulders of those that went ahead of me to make a path.  What a good feeling.  I can only hope that my career trajectory will put me in a position to do the same for my sisters behind me.

After that uplifting experience, it was almost time to load up on the airport shuttle for the ride back to the Louis Armstrong Airport…BUT, the ABA conference had one more event that I just could not pass up.  Although it was not an event that was specifically part of the Judicial Conference, almost on Day 1 the rumors started.  At first, I wasn’t sure it could be true, but the rumor never quite died down and then on that last day it was confirmed:  United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was going to be onsite and we would be allowed to attend his presentation and see him in person.  I was beside myself with excitement!

The hotel had set up two small ballrooms for attendees to sit and there was a small platform with two chairs where Justice Scalia and the moderator sat.  Considering there were maybe 150 people in the rooms, it was a rather intimate space.   After he was introduced, the moderator just began asking Justice Scalia questions about the Court, his impressions, how things have changed during his tenure, etc.  Although we could only stay for about 20 minutes of the conversation, what I did find out is that Justice Scalia has a razor sharp wit and a really great sense of humor.  In my opinion, he is just brilliant.  I could have sat and listened to him talk about all he’s done and all he’s seen, for hours.  In the end, it was just fantastic to be in such close proximity to someone so important to the shaping of American jurisprudence as Justice Scalia has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Before we were told that pictures were not allowed, I took a few and I’m glad I did.  This was an opportunity I probably won’t ever have again.  This is why I never go anywhere without my camera!

4th Circuit to Bourbon Street in a Day!

As you can tell, I didn’t have time to blog during my last two days in New Orleans, but a lot got done!  I went to sleep pretty late on Thursday night/Friday morning, so getting to breakfast and our research sessions was hard to do.  But…on we must go!

The team and I had done most of our legal research the day before, so we were going through our cases and working on a proposed outline of what we found.  Some of the judges were at other ABA sessions, but Judge Guy Reece was there and listened while we presented our findings.  He asked a lot of questions, offered counter points and together we came up with a plan for a proposed opinion.  Later on, Judge Stephanie Domitrovich came to further assist us with our research and outline.

Then it was time for the 4th Circuit panel to convene.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but an area of the ballroom had been set up with chairs facing a platform where the judges would sit.  Also set up were tables for the apellant and appellee.  [In case you don’t know, circuit courts are courts of appeal and so the parties are identified as “appellant” (the party bringing an appeal) and “appellee” (the party against whom an appeal is taken).  The appellant is the party that  lost at the trial level.]

Anyway, since the court moved to the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, all the cases and the lawyers moved too, so oral arguments scheduled for court that day went on as planned except they were in a different location.  Appeals cases are much more formal than cases at the trial level; the court can only make determinations based on information contained in the lower court record, so there’s not a lot of showboating or emotion.  In fact, the whole concept of oral arguments is more like a conversation and the judges can and do interrupt the attorneys whenever they have questions or need a point clarified.  Each side gets 20 minutes and that’s it.  Go….

After oral arguments we got a short Q&A with the judges and then had lunch.  Also on Friday we had a resume workshop and Judge Reece reviewed our resumes to give us pointers of what aspects were good and what things we might consider changing.  Nothing was off-limits from font, to content, to style and format.  It was all good information.  About the only critique he had about my resume was that it is two pages long.  But then, as he pondered over it he admitted that it was all good and relevant information.  In the end he decided that because of all my previous work experience, I was probably just fine with a two page resume.

We worked on our research project the rest of the afternoon, then all of the program participants met to take a group picture with the judges. Later that evening we went to a reception across the street where more ABA lawyers were attending.  Needless to say, there was a whole lot of business card swapping that went on and we met all kinds of attorneys and judges with various areas of legal expertise.

Finally, after 7 pm when all our program events were over, Liz and I changed into comfortable clothes and decided to take a peek down Bourbon Street.  Wow.  That’s all I can say.

 

 

 

It was wild and it’s not even officially Mardi Gras yet!  I supposed if you’re drinking (like most everyone was) one has a much different perception than if you are one of the few sober people walking around.  Liz and I walked around with our mouths agape.  I have never seen such excess…drinking, partying, fraternizing, soliciting it was all there, right on the street, for anyone and all to see.  I was amazed to see a handful of people there with elementary school age kids wandering the dirty, nasty streets.  As I told Liz, I was hoping the whole time that the world would not end at that moment with me in the middle of that den of iniquity because I’d not want the Lord to think I was participating in all that debauchery.  I suppose though, it’s something to say I’ve been there, done that.  No overwhelming urge for me to go back there anytime soon.

ONE cool thing did come out of our walk down several blocks of Bourbon Street:  Apparently we inadvertently stumbled onto a moving shooting.  The movie “Now You See Me” stars actors Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Mark Ruffalo.  The scene was shooting in the middle of the street and Jesse was running through a crowd of people celebrating Mardi Gras; beads were flying from the balconies and Mark was at the end of the block standing on a police car looking for Jesse’s character through the crowd.  They ran the scene several times which gave me the opportunity to get some pics.

As we moved down the street away from the crew and Jesse we got to where Mark was.  There was so much chaos with people on both sidewalks, the actors and extras in the street simulating a “crowd” and just the sensory overload of Bourbon Street that I have no idea how, but I ended up right next to the police car where Mark was standing for his scene.  He was coming back from having jumped off the car and we were standing right next to each other.  Liz and I quickly asked if we could take a picture and he was so sweet that he stopped and stood with me while she did!  We were giddy with laughter trying to figure out how we managed to get that to happen.   Talk about being at the right place at the right time!  I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that Liz was yelling, “We’re law students!!!”  But, it didn’t hurt!

After that, we ‘d had about enough and were exhausted.  We made a loop and walked back the other side of Bourbon Street heading back to the hotel.  Good night, New Orleans–hope everyone makes it home safe!

Mardi Gras, Voo Doo & All That Jazz

Who dat?  We dat!   Greetings from N’awlins and the American Bar Association Judicial Clerkship Program!

Today was the first day of the three-day program and it was quite an experience.   My colleague and I arrived in New Orleans pretty late and by the time we got to the hotel, checked in and got something to eat, it was the early hours of Thursday morning.  Lucky for us that the program didn’t start until noon.

We’ve been split up into groups and at my table there are four other law students and four judges…two district judges (one from Ohio and the other from Pennsylvania), one Administrative Law judge, and a judge serving in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.

What could I possibly have in common with a judge in The Hague?  A lot!  Turns out she is retired from the Air Force and did a stint in my home town of San Antonio, Texas AND she also spoke of commuting 500 miles a week her first year of law school.   We had lots to talk about when I told her I’ve commuted 1000 miles a week for the last 3.5 years!  It was quite a bonding moment.  She gave me her card and invited me to visit the Hague (Yeah!  I’m thinking I need to make this happen at some point.) and she’d arrange a tour for me.  HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!  I am definitely going to put this on my bucket list of things to do and will start researching this soon, no doubt.

We got our legal research assignment, which is a major part of this conference, today and worked in our groups with our assigned judges to tackle the problem, isolate the issues and research to find relevant law.  More than just telling us what we need to do to become judicial clerks, they are showing us what the job entails and equipping us with the skills to do the work.

Tomorrow (Friday….even though it is already Friday when I’m writing about this) a panel of Justices from the 4th Circuit will be here to listen to oral arguments on several cases on their docket.  Originally, we were supposed to go to the court and hear the arguments there, but since there is such a large group of us the court instead decided to convene in our hotel.  I am so excited to see how this works in real life!

After our cocktail reception and more networking, my colleague Liz and I got out of the hotel and took a walk down Decatur Street.  We got a good look at New Orleans at night, stopped and listened to jazz on the street and picked up some beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe Du Monde. Since Mardi Gras is coming up soon the city is bathed in green, purple and gold everywhere you look.  I purchased some glittery mardi gras masks and t-shirts for the family. While out shopping the clerk at a local Walgreens noticed the ABA t-shirts that Liz and I were wearing.  She started asking questions about our conference and when she found out that we are law students, she wanted to know  more.  Liz and I had one foot out the door and when she wanted to know about OUR law school we did an about-face and talked to her at length about our experiences in law school, but in particular, at Texas Wesleyan.  She was amazed that the both of us are doing what she’s always dreamed of doing and we both have kids and a family too.   She also has kids and so our stories seemed to give her hope.  I passed her my business card and invited her to email me if she wanted more information and she promised that she would.  Maybe we planted a seed.  I’d like to think so.  It’s been a really fun and exciting event so far.

Since we have to meet for breakfast and another long day of legal clerking at 7:30 am…I better get some sleep.  It’s already after 1 am!

More to report tomorrow, I’m sure!

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