The Department of Public Defense is saying goodbye this week and next to its 20 interns, thoughtful and dedicated law students who experienced both epic trial victories and hard-fought losses during their 10 weeks at DPD.
They worked in nearly every case area DPD handles; put forward excellent release arguments, writs, and motions; researched complex legal issues, and wrote thoughtful legal memos. They spent time together at trainings, shared lunches where they heard from others in the field of public defense, and were mentored by several excellent attorneys.
In interviews with a handful of them during their last few days at the department, they talked about what these 10 weeks have meant to them – what they enjoyed, what was hard, and their thoughts about the legal system as they approach their final year of law school. Here are a few highlights.
Madeleine Mashon, Nicandro Iannacci, and Maya Ramakrishnan (shown below with their supervisor Joshua Andrews) said it was a rich experience at the Northwest Defenders Division, where they practiced in both Seattle Municipal Court and King County District Court.
Madeleine, a University of Texas law student who handled four trials during her 10-week internship, said she learned “what it means to be a voice for your clients.” One of her clients had extensive interaction with the criminal legal system, including several convictions, but had never gone to trial until she represented him in District Court. “I think it was meaningful for him to see someone stand up for him in that way,” she said.
Nicandro, a Columbia Law School student who also handled four trials, said he too found his voice in the courtroom. “I feel I’ve learned to embrace the fight and be a happy warrior in a system that’s totally screwed up.” His experience this summer, he added, confirmed that becoming a public defender is the right path for him. “It tickles every part of my brain and every part of my heart,” he said.
All three of them also talked about how troubling it was to see the hard reality of a system that targets poor people and that profoundly fails to address the real issues that lead to system involvement.
“I knew going into this summer that there are major problems with our criminal legal system,” said Maya, who’s about to begin her third year at the University of Washington School of Law. “It’s a different thing to see it.”
“So much of what gets charged is petty,” she added. “The criminal legal system is not making us safer. It’s just creating traps for poor people.”
Nicandro agreed. “We use the criminal legal system to clean up problems we don’t want to solve.”
Sayer Rippey, a family defense intern at the Associated Counsel for the Accused Division, came to DPD specifically to experience a family defense practice. (She’s seen here, far right, talking to her supervisor, Kelli Johnson.)
She’s ending her 10 weeks at DPD certain of her next steps: “I want to do this,” she said. “I want to be a public defender in family defense.”
A law student at the UW, she said she’s been thrilled by the breadth of her experiences at DPD. She’s filed motions and argued them, represented clients at 72-hour shelter care hearings, and even tried one dependency case. She also researched and wrote a motion for a relatively obscure request – “permissive intervention,” where an adult who was the psychological rather than biological parent asked to become a party to the dependency case, enabling her to seek visitation rights. Sayer won the motion, an emotional moment.
“My client was crying. The judge was crying. It was deeply moving,” she said.
She also enjoyed shadowing several of the public defenders in the family defense unit, gaining a window into the many aspects of this often complex and emotional area of law. “They’re all really good at being with their clients, at connecting with them and fully supporting them. I’ve learned so much just by watching them.”
Caitlin Bayly and Jacob Walsh (left, in the hallway at Seattle Municipal Court) spent the summer at The Defender Association Division (TDAD), working in SMC and District Court under the supervision of Whitney Sichel.
Like other interns, they were pleased by the range of experiences they had. They were co-counsel on one trial together, each arguing separate motions to dismiss; both wrote RALJ briefs; and both said they were impressed by the amount of time they got in the courtroom and with clients.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” Jacob said, noting the recent trial he handled. “But it was also fun. Having the judge ask you questions from the bench, you have to really think on your feet. I enjoyed that part.”
“You don’t really understand what it’s like – the pressure and the adrenaline – until you do a trial,” Caitlin said. Few internships afford such opportunities, she added. “I think this program is unique that way.”
Caitlin, who attends Berkeley Law School and interned last summer for the Orleans Public Defender, said she plans to go into public defense. “The system is so unjust and racist, and we all have an obligation to do our part. The way for me is to represent individual clients. Showing up and listening when no one else will – it counts for so much.”
Jacob, a law student at Seattle University, spent a year between college and law school as a clerk in King County District Court. He, too, plans to become a public defender, in large part because he is troubled by the racism he sees in the system. He also enjoys working with clients.
“Something I’ve learned is that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” he said. “I think everyone should have an opportunity to be heard and to tell their story.”
Katrina Villanueva, a law student at Seattle University (seen here, prepping for an arraignment in juvenile court), spent most of her summer in the Society of Counsel Division’s juvenile unit under the supervision of Elinor Cromwell, an experience she said she enjoyed immensely. Among other things, she said, she learned that she is skilled in working with youth.
“I loved getting to know the kids,” she said. “I was a little nervous about working with them, but it was actually really easy. They’re so respectful and they know more than a lot of people realize.”
Katrina also enjoyed the breadth of the practice in the juvenile unit, where she experienced every type of case, including misdemeanors and felonies. She handled arraignments and first appearances, played a role in warrant return hearings, watched some deferred disposition hearings, and researched several legal issues, including a look at what limits can be imposed on probation counselors trying to collect information.
“I’ve always been interested in criminal law. I know litigation is something I want to do. And I now know that public defense is definitely where I fit in,” she said.
Like several other interns, Carly Lenhoff, an intern at The Defender Association Division, said she was struck by the real-world nature of her experiences in the courtroom. (She’s seen at right during a first appearance for a young person at juvenile court.) A student at Georgetown University, where she’s getting not only her JD but also a master’s degree in public policy, she said she’s used to mock trials, where a mistake might cost you a few points.
“It’s very different when it’s no longer hypothetical,” she said. “Here, it’s not the difference of a point or two on a score. It’s the difference between a young person going home or going to detention.”
She said she’s been inspired by the attorneys with whom she worked, including her supervisor, Katy Wallace, people who are not only very skilled but who also “clearly care.”
“I’ve also come to realize this is an occupation that’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself, or you’re not going to make it,” she said.
Tara Urs, DPD’s special counsel for civil policy and practice, training, and employee development, oversaw this summer’s internship program, and she interviewed most of the 20 interns during their last few days at DPD. She asked them for their honest feedback about DPD’s program and ways it can be improved, gleaning ideas she’ll incorporate into next year’s program.
But mostly, she heard that their experiences in the department’s four divisions were rich, robust, and challenging in all the right ways. “Our divisions invest an enormous amount of time in training and supporting them,” she said.
“It’s always good to see our practice through the fresh eyes of our interns and to see the impact our clients can have on the trajectory of young lawyers,” Tara added. “We wish them all the best in their fight for a more just world.”
To learn more about DPD’s internship program, visit DPD’s internship page on its website. The department is currently recruiting for its summer 2020 internship program.