Last week, I began my internship with the Washtenaw County Office of the Public Defender. As a rising senior who aspires to attend law school, I was ecstatic to gain tangible experience in the legal sector while working to advance equity in the criminal justice system.
The Washtenaw County Office of the Public Defender serves as the counterpart to the prosecutor’s office in that it provides effective, holistic defense for clients who are accused of a crime but cannot afford a private defense attorney. These indigent clients rely on public defenders to guide them through the complicated and emotionally taxing process of combatting a criminal charge through zealous advocacy, investigative work, and unwavering empathy.
The Washtenaw County Office of the Public Defender accepts both law student clerks and undergraduate interns over the summer and school year. Law students can represent clients in court proceedings and appear on the record under the supervision of an attorney, while undergraduates perform investigative work by preparing case files, interviewing clients, and providing miscellaneous assistance in court proceedings. Each public defender has 2-4 interns, and my supervising attorney for the summer is Stephen Adams, a veteran defense attorney with over 25 years of experience as a public defender. He predominantly represents clients in adult felony cases in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court.
In my first two weeks as an intern, I have already been to court on four occasions and spent time doing administrative work in our office at 200 E. Huron. In court, I assist Stephen by finding our clients and arranging for them to meet with him, organizing his case files, and helping to interview clients. In the office, I prepare case files for the upcoming days by researching our clients’ criminal background, the charges, the police report, and other relevant information. The internship has already provided a fantastic insight into the daily work of a public defender, and it has been rewarding to work on behalf of clients who are truly in need of effective legal counsel. The vast majority of our clients are low-income, and many of them have mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues, so I feel honored to stand in their defense against felony charges, many of which carry a mandatory minimum prison sentence. When we reach a favorable plea bargain to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor with no prison time, it feels like a victory for our clients.
During the summer, I hope to network with my supervisor and other public defenders in our office in order to learn about their career paths and experiences. I want to learn how to establish strong attorney-client relationships with clients who did not necessarily choose or want a public defense attorney, and I want to stand up for individuals who have no other advocates or allies in the criminal justice system. I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to serve my community this summer and gain valuable exposure to our legal system.
Image 1: Washtenaw County Circuit Courthouse on E. Huron, just steps away from our office. Here, we represent clients in pre-trial, violation of probation/parole, and sentencing hearings
Image 1: Washtenaw County District Court 14A-1 on Washtenaw Avenue, where we represent clients charged with felonies in their preliminary hearings