2011 PFIG Recipient Jacquelyn Desch
College of Arts & Sciences
English & American Studies Major
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: Court of Common Pleas, Delaware
Notes on the first week
I finished up my finals on the thirteenth of May and had smartly planned ahead, giving myself a week by the pool before I began my internship. The New Castle County Court of Common Pleas would have to wait until May 23… I should have checked the weather. It rained and poured so much of ‘the week by the pool’ that when the day came to pack my lunch and head to my new job, I was beyond ready. Or so I thought until I was rushing to get ready on the morning of the 23rd; but I had at least prepared something the night before and that was my thoughts. I had thought about what I could get out of this internship if I did well; what I could learn, who I could meet, and all of that. Mostly though, I was just nervous.
Over winter break of this past year, good friends of mine had invited me to a Christmas dinner party they were hosting. This couple themselves were involved very much in the legal community of Wilmington, Delaware, and so, many of their guests were lawyers and judges of their acquaintance. My main objective going to this party was, of course, to have fun and enjoy the company of friends. I would be remiss however, to say that the need for a legal internship wasn’t in the back of my mind. I had been thinking about an internship either with a private law firm, a state prosecutor, or a judge for a while by that winter of 2010-2011. The beginning of my second year at UVA was when I had declared my English and American Studies – with a concentration in American law and society – majors. Going to law school was the obvious end result to that. So at the party I knew that I could, at the very least, meet very interesting people who could offer their personal experiences as advice to me. Needless to say, I met the Rock - a nickname for the judge I am working with this summer which I will use throughout the telling of this story. Herein lies the most important message I can communicate in this first of my summer journal entries – look first to the people around you, the people you know as resources. They will almost never pay you but a mutually beneficial partnership is possible – your free labor and their experience.So I nervously started my internship which was described to me as follows. I was to work with the Rock, known so for her tireless and unconquerable dedication to her principles and what she believes in, and her assistant on the Court of Common Pleas’ Drug Diversion program. This program gave certain eligible clients the opportunity to avoid conviction on drug charges by enrolling in an educational and treatment based program that used rehabilitation as opposed to punitive measures to prevent repeated drug abuse and charges. Drug Diversion is so valuable an opportunity because it gives people a second chance. Getting a good job and having a good life is made ten times as hard when employers see drug convictions on your record. By completing the program, clients not only get to avoid a permanent conviction but also to have the education and other assistance to end their addiction. While all of this is perfectly accurate, there were hidden dimensions to this job that I have learned quickly in the span of only a week.
My first week flew by in a tidal wave of new names, computer programs, file folders, innocent criminals, guilty innocents, public defenders, benches, bailiffs, tears, pleadings, vehement denials, and – my personal favorite – the notion that smoking marijuana is legal on 4/20. I have learned the ropes this past week and will detail more specifically the responsibilities I have and duties I perform when I give you an update in a few weeks.
The topic of my journal this week is one often bragged of at dear old UVA, but not often present in my place of work. One of the judges on the Court of Common Pleas is a UVA graduate – several other judges in the New Castle County Courthouse are as well – as looking into his office will immediately tell you. Covering his walls are posters, mostly of UVA incredible and recently successful lacrosse team. One day, however, he took down a plaque off his wall to show me and its subject was not sports or his diploma. It was entitled “The Honor Men” and I am sad or perhaps embarrassed to say that I had never seen it before. Putting aside the fact that this poem remarks on women only in the context of those that press flowers between the pages of books and those that cry - although anyone who knows me knows that I noticed the gender issues first - I thought about the interesting role honor played in the world of justice. In particular I thought about honor in the experiences I have had, week to week, at the courthouse which brings me to a more detailed description of a typical day at my internship.
Everything I do can fit into two essential categories: Drug Diversion and court observation. In terms of the Drug Diversion program, I help its manager with the day to day issues. I prepare the files and reports on the clients who have court appearances. I am in contact with Brandywine Counseling and Community Services – with whom the Drug Court works – about clients who have completed the program, failed out of the program, or maybe just need the judge to scare them into cooperation. Just this past week, the Drug Court manager went on vacation. Guess who was in charge? Me! The Rock has also been incredibly generous with my responsibilities. She is having me design a brochure for the Drug Diversion program and write an article for the newspaper about the program’s features. These two projects will be concrete examples of the work I have done this summer to take and show to future schools and employers.
The court observation is simply me going to sit in on hearings. I have been to several different courts (traffic, violation of probation, domestic violence, jury trials, etc.) and sat in with several different judges. This has led to one of the most interesting facts I have discovered about the justice system. Judges have very different styles – largely due to the fact that the different types of courts they oversee require different personalities, methods, etc. I am certainly not saying that one judge is better than another. Rather, I have noticed that some judges need to get to know their clients - like in Mental Health court – whereas in Traffic Court, this is neither helpful nor feasible. Another mind-blowing thing I learned is how easily two people, in basically similar circumstances, can go two totally separate ways in life. One of my secret santas from my childhood was convicted of charges. It went beyond “two roads diverged” to downright paradoxical. My secret santa ended up on one side of the stand and I ended up on the other.
Where does honor come in? Most crimes boil down to lying, cheating, and stealing. In the New Castle County Court of Common Pleas, I have seen blatant lying – to the point of telling two lies that totally contradict each other. I have seen possible insurance fraud, robbery, theft, harassment, and more. The language of all of these crimes’ statutes is that of stealing from or cheating someone of their health, happiness, and safety. It also comes down to people who have honor and those who don’t. Circumstances do shape a person and sometimes force them down the road more traveled. However, as Robert Frost would say, the road less traveled doesn’t usually lead to probation before judgment or worse, prison!
The summer flew by at the New Castle County Courthouse. I had a wonderful experience and the fact that I was getting paid by the Parents Fund Internship Grant only added to it. Throughout my time there I learned a little about being a grown up – the 9 to 5 schedule is tough – and a lot about the future. This internship was the best possible way of determining whether I wanted to go to law school and it worked out in my favor because now I don’t have to change my major. The exact path isn’t clear to me yet, but law is definitely something I want to pursue.
In the final weeks I took on a lot of responsibility, independent of oversight. I would go to court with the Roc and take notes, enter clients into the Drug Diversion program, pull files from the clerks’ office, schedule clients for graduation and court hearings, and work on the brand new Drug Diversion pamphlet (a task especially designed for me by the Roc so I could have something concrete to take to future employers). I certainly could not have completed all of this on my own – which leads me to another little drop of advice. It is so important from the very beginning of a job or internship to develop relationships with co-workers. Sharing the load, particularly in a courthouse, is what will get everyone’s tasks completed on time and well-done. I had a lot of support from everyone there, including clerks, bailiffs, and even other judges who always offered an invitation to come and view their fields of law. Everyone at the New Castle County Courthouse wanted me to succeed and make the best of this opportunity. I couldn’t have found a better way to spend my summer.
I believe that I had a successful summer both in my experience and my performance. I discovered that while you don’t necessarily have to be passionate about what you are making a career of, you must be passionate about doing your best. This is not to say that I am not passionate about the legal field and the work I could do there, just that even on the not-so-fun parts of an internship (a.k.a. filing,) it was important to do my best. The not-so-fun parts paid off in the fun parts: seeing a project come to fruition and getting advice from people who had clearly made it in their chosen field.
As a final thought I wanted to mention the Diversion programs, the majority of my summer. I worked on the drug program, observed the mental health program, and went to New York to see the prostitution program. Some people I have talked to love the idea, some do not. I have seen the programs fail and I have seen them succeed. The upside and downside of the programs are that they depend on the human condition. It is the client’s attitude and life experience that determines the outcome of the program. So while Diversion isn’t a cure-all, it is most definitely a tool of justice.