Seeing a Case Through-#3

In my last blog, I noted that at the Washtenaw County Office of the Public Defender, I have worked on and sat in on an array of cases. While this has broadened my lens in a multitude of ways, there has been one case that I have been working on since I started this internship that has come to define my internship experience.

In all honesty, it is difficult to write about much of the work that I am doing because all of the interns use attorney-client privilege. This means that just like attorneys, we may not speak about our clients or the specifics of their case outside the office or court. Therefore, while this post may lack some specificity, I feel that it is important to discuss this case because my internship experience truly would not have been the same without it.

I started working on this case in early June and truly thought very little of it. At this point in the internship, I had read through many neglect and abuse cases. Generally, the majority of cases that came across my desk dealt with physical or sexual abuse and failure to protect. Then, a case appeared dealing with emotional abuse.

On the surface, this case didn’t stand out, simply because emotional abuse doesn’t sound as severe as the more common types of abuse cases that we deal with. However, once I started reading the case, it became evident that the abuse these children experienced was far more severe than anticipated and there were few precedents to guide us.

The children in the case had been adopted by their grandparents following their father’s passing and mother’s incarceration. During their time with the grandparents, the children were allegedly subjected to intense and persistent verbal attacks, occasional pushes and kicks, and consistent threats to be removed from the home. This emotional abuse only intensified the trauma the children had experienced with their biological parents.

Obviously, there are a lot more nuances involved with this case, but the specifics of the case are not what has made it so memorable. Instead, the due process and the legal precedent this case could set are what have captured my attention.

We are only at the jurisdiction phase of this case, which usually involves one court date and three to four attorneys. However, this case has had over eight court dates, 9 attorneys, and has another court date approaching on August 23rd.

From an attorney going on record while under the influence of heavy pain medications to wiretapping, this case has been full of atypical antics. However, the only way out is through. So, despite the mounting issues mainly at the hand of the respondent parent’s counsel, the only option is to keep pushing on. This means that we have had to re-schedule, sit through hours of testimony, and be prepared for new discovery to be presented in court with little to no notice.

Every time we appear in court, each party looks more drained than before. However, because there is no precedent and there is a strong chance this case could be appealed, we have to plan not just for the next court date, but for this case being on our docket for the foreseeable future.
To many this may seem painful. Yet, when one considers that this case has the potential be one of the first cases to address emotional abuse, the mounting appellate issues, and the children at the center of all this, it is tremendously important.

The law is not always glamorous and Legally Blonde-esque. In fact, more often than not, it is slow and gritty. This grueling process may deter some, but I have only grown more invested in this work because simple and easy cases do not spark change. Instead, it is these nuanced and messy cases that create precedents and shape legislation. Therefore, while some may want to run away from a case like this, by seeing it through, one gets to see the real effects that law has on an individual case and the effects it can have on the thousands of cases that will follow it.

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