Trial by Fire

As you know, if you’re reading regularly or at all, or if you know me–I am involved in the UB clinic program which allows me to handle cases under the supervision of the public defender’s office.

I am in there 2 days a week, and for most students in the position the first few weeks are supposed to be shadowing, etc. Since I had done all of the shadowing that a 3rd-year law student could mentally handle in my internship this summer, and more or less having the confidence to handle cases, and having the confidence of the head of the office to handle cases, the decision was made that I would start getting cases today. With that in mind, last Friday I met with a public defender who had a docket of cases schedule for the district court this morning. In Maryland, there are two trial courts. The district court is the lower court, and limited to bench trials, if a case is to be tried at all. Charges carrying a max penalty exceeding 90 days in jail give the defendant the right to pray a jury trial. Jury trials are in the Circuit Court, and are set in roughly 2 months down from the prayer.

The plan was that I would review the docket last Friday with this attorney, and to “ease me in” we would cherry pick a few cases that shouldn’t be too tough for me to handle. Mostly cases in which the state is dropping charges, or putting the charges on what is called the ‘stet docket’. Sounds good to me, I can handle this, no big deal.

So this morning, court begins at 8:30, and I’m in the office waiting for the attorney with the docket, who will have to supervise me during all of this, to show up. Tick, tock, tick tock. Eventually the phone rings, and it appears as if this attorney has called in sick. Seriously? No big deal to me, and in fact I think this might have even been set up. “I got this, its show time.”

I took it upon myself from this point to handle the entire docket. For confidentiality reasons I can’t really go into any details, none of which were too exciting anyway, but everything went well. Talked to the State’s attorney, the clients, even put pressure on the ASA to drop charges that they wanted to stet, and stet cases they wanted to offer a PBJ. A job well done, at least for a rookie.

By 11 am I had handled my first case ever, and 8 more. Exciting. In fact, so exciting that my next move was to figure out who had an afternoon docket and hijack that!

These district court cases are relatively minor. In fact, the bulk of the afternoon docket I grabbed were driving on suspended or other “serious traffic” charges. All in all, out of 18 total clients (3 of which failed to appear) everyone seemed happy with the results–especially those who got better results than the state originally wanted to offer.

This clinic is supposed to provide experience and a real feel of practice. Its also supposed to help someone decide if this is in fact what they want to do. Check, Check and Check.

Bring it on!