My summer internship at the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court, made possible by the Wellman Hill grant, was split in two distinct and interesting halves. On my first day in mid May, I made the thirty minute drive to the court which would become my daily routine. I arrived at 8:00 am, and upon entering the courthouse I immediately sought out Margaret Bagley, the judge’s assistant who was my first contact at the court. She showed me around the judge’s lobby and set me up at a computer from which I could access years of Massachusetts court decisions at leisure.
At 8:30 am, Margaret introduced me to the court’s first justice, Judge Kathleen Coffey, who became my boss and supervisor. Over the first half of the summer, I performed multiple tasks for the judge. On some days, I would sit at the information desk in the lobby and direct people to one of the five Sessions, the Clerk’s office, or the probation department. On other days, I would shadow the judge and observe trials. For example, I observed trials dealing with a range of offenses, from illegal possession of firearms to drug offenses to sexual assault, as well as varying civil issues. The time I spent in the courtroom observing these trials gave me a good feel for the day to day business of a courthouse, and strengthened my conviction to become an attorney.
Perhaps the most important task I performed for the judge was putting together a binder for a criminal procedures course that she is teaching this semester. I spent hours finding cases and making photocopies for the class binder, which when completed somewhat resembled the curriculum of the “Civil Liberties: Rights of the Accused” course available at Case.
In mid July, after I had finished putting all eighteen course binders together, Judge Coffey informed me that she was moving me to the probation department so I could get a different perspective on public law. This started the second half of my summer internship.
Judge Coffey was correct in claiming that probation would change my views on American law. I spent the majority of my time in probation alerting probation officers to the presence of probates and doing “intakes”, or interviewing new arrestees. This process essentially consisted of inquiring about basic information, such as name, residence, income, and whether or not the person receives government aid.
As one might imagine, a diverse plethora of people come through the probation department. I met some people who simply had to clear up warrants from earlier in their lifetime but who appeared to be leading relatively normal lifestyles. However, the majority of people I interviewed were gangsters, prostitutes, criminal alcoholics, and batterers who showed little remorse or intention to change. One time, one of the probation officers brought me along for lockup interviews, and I came face to face with a serial rapist. At first I found these interactions disturbing, as they shattered my preconceived notion that probation was a practice in rehabilitation.
Nonetheless, despite the career-criminals I met who seemed unwilling to change, there were a few probates who convinced me that the system is worth the time. The primary example I experienced was a young man, no older than me, who had spent ten months in prison and in that time had acquired his high school diploma as well as taken courses in leadership and management.
Overall, my experience at the West Roxbury Division affirmed my interests in law and public service. Thanks to the Wellman Hill grant, I was able to come to appreciate what the American legal system strives for in a deeper sense than I could have without first-hand experience.