As per the usual when autumn comes around and the school year gets underway, variants of the question “How was your summer?” become the conversation starter of choice.
Elevator Pitch Version: Great, I was back in Pennsylvania at the Office of the Attorney General, I really liked it.
Long Elevator Pitch Version (en route to the 12th floor or higher): Really good, I was doing civil litigation for the Office of the Attorney General in Pittsburgh which is where I am sort of from, I got to do a lot of cool stuff with the Department of Corrections and the state university system.
Extended Version for you, Dear Reader, Presented in the Format of a Top Six Experiences List:
6. Voir Dire: When a fellow intern and I showed up for a trial she had helped prepare for we were aghast to learn that our two hour drive had been for naught as the jury had been taken out on an expedition to see the site of the accident in question in the case. But all was not lost! A friendly judicial clerk advised us to wander the courthouse and see what other educational experiences we might observe, which led us to the apparently-practically-never-occuring-opportunity to sit in for the private voir dire component of jury selection for a criminal case in the judge’s chambers*.
5. A tour of ‘The Wall': The greatgranddaddy of American incarceration facilities, the famed and feared Western Penitentiary now known as SCI Pittsburgh (SCI standing for State Corrections Institute), where a superintendent was kind enough to show several members of my office and I around so we could better understand the logistics of the depositions we were conducting (well, they were conducting per se, and I was observing and taking notes).
4. Federal Magistrate swearing in open court: When the magistrate conducting a trial I attended decided the best way to get the alleged incendiary comments at issue in the case into the record was to read them aloud herself, I heard some things I would never have imagined being said in a courtroom other than perhaps in a furious whispered undertone.
3. Pre-trial Conference: One of my supervising attorneys brought me along to a pre-trial conference hearing with none other than the sameself federal judge who taught several of the legal studies classes in undergrad that had made me want to go to law school in the first place. Bonus: The judge remembered me and commented to my supervisor that I’d been a good student, definitely a good foot to get off on for the summer. Double Bonus: It happened to be my birthday!
2. The AG’s Office Itself: The only people who ever called my office phone (I had my own office, phone line and dying houseplant and all!) were my father and the Alabama Department of Corrections Prison Ministry, regarding, respectively, an ongoing battle with the internet provider of my subleased apartment in Boston and evidence being offered in a case I was working on allegedly coming from an Alabama DOC affiliate. I eventually had to ask my Dad to confine himself to text or email during my work day so that I could have the line free for the chaplain I was coordinating a lynchpin declaration with, which ended up being key to supporting the motion for summary judgment.
1. The Odinist Case: One of my main projects for the summer involved an alleged First Amendment religious exercise violation filed by a state prison inmate who claimed to practice Odinism, the worship of the Norse Gods. (This, not that.) The Constitutional issues at play and absurdity and outright coolness of the case made me the envy of the office, and I have never felt more like a law-nerd then I did with the pride I took in that. After first establishing what exactly Odinism was, my supervisor and I determined that a motion for summary judgment was the best course of action. I researched the narrower-than-I-would-have-thought line between freedom to possess items of religious significance and the penological interests at play in keeping gang symbols out of penitentiaries, RLUIPA, and much more before writing the brief and preparing the coordinating exhibits. Fingers crossed on if the motion is granted!
*It’s really important to note that while going through security to get into the courthouse, my friend had neglected to remove a metal spoon from her handbag. Her plans to snack on yogurt were thwarted when she was forced to check the offending spoon at the weapons desk and to then retrieve it at the end of the day while everyone else was getting back their handguns and pocket knives.