2020 PFIG Recipient Catherine Johnson
Journal Entry #1
This summer I am interning at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a legal non-profit that works on capital cases. I applied for this position because I think the work LCAC is doing is really important and I wanted to learn more about what a career in public interest law would look like. Additionally, I am interested in criminal justice reform and was curious to learn about the policies that surround the death penalty and the ways in which it disproportionately targets minorities, the mentally ill, and the indigent.
I have worked at LCAC for one month now and have been assigned to four different cases. Most of my work revolves around media capture -- or the use of a digital program that saves the social media and news coverage of our clients and everyone involved in their cases. This is necessary because social media can help show connections between those involved in a case. It is important that LCAC is aware of what is being put out on social media because the prosecution will be doing similar sweeps and it is imperative that we know everything they do and will not be blind sighted during a trial. In the coming weeks, I hope to continue to cultivate the skills I have developed while also delving into new projects and learning more about the systems that created and perpetuate capital punishment.
Journal Entry #2
On July 17th I wrapped up the last week of my eight-week internship at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. Throughout my time there I learned a lot about the challenges and responsibilities of a publicly funded capital defense non-profit. I learned about how underfunded these organizations are and how that makes the uphill battle against conservative prosecution, policy, and public opinion an even more difficult one.
One of the best parts of working at LCAC was getting to sit in on weekly team meetings with the attorneys and investigators for each case. Interns were treated as valued team members and got to learn about all angles of the cases we worked on. The work was very heavy in nature, as a win in death penalty defense can sometimes mean life in prison. However, everyone at LCAC was upbeat and practical -- setting a positive tone and a high bar for client-centric defense.
Because this internship was meant to be in person and was converted to a virtual format, there have been some barriers to participation, the most notable being technical difficulties, and lack of connection to other interns while working. However, we all dealt with any technical issues that arrived the best we could, and LCAC made a good faith effort to create a virtual community among the interns, with weekly Zoom calls and brown bag lunches. I am grateful for my time at LCAC, as it taught me so much about the nature of capital defense and gave me a feel for what it would be like to work in death penalty defense law.
Journal Entry #3
My time at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center was both challenging and fulfilling. During my eight weeks there I spent time assisting with investigative work, such as looking through and capturing the social media profiles of our clients and all those involved in our cases, transcribing interviews with clients or witnesses, and working on a team to process thousands of Facebook comments to determine what percentage of the comments were hostile to our client to help make a case for a change of venue.
These tasks showed me the lengths LCAC employees went to fight for their clients and reinforced to me the importance of centering the client in all the work one does. While my tasks were sometimes menial in nature, I never doubted that they were helpful in ultimately providing a quality defense to LCAC clients, and lightening the load for LCAC investigators and attorneys. The opportunity to intern at LCAC has shown me what it means to provide a truly quality defense for someone that would otherwise have no defense at all and showed me a standard that will be hard to meet in the future.