On my first day of work, I wanted to make a good impression. To begin, I arrived at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. District Court House thirty minutes early, 8:00 a.m. to be exact. When I entered, my heart began to race with excitement; my dreams were quickly becoming a reality. The elevator ride to the seventeenth floor felt like an eternity. As I approached Chief Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr.’s chambers, I searched for the right words to say, “Hello Judge…Good Morning Judge…Good Day Your Honor…” Concerned about my professional attire, I checked my suit for apparent winkles and creases. At last, everything was in order. With a deep breath and a smile, I walked inside.
When I entered the chambers, I met Chief Judge Oliver’s law clerks, Margaux and Jessica, his courtroom deputy, Maria, and his judicial assistant, Bettye. After a tour of his courtroom and a brief seminar outlining a legal extern’s responsibilities, I asked, “Where’s the judge?” All responded, “Oh sorry, Judge Oliver is not here today. In fact, he won’t return to the courthouse for at least another few days. He’s been summoned for jury duty!”
Thanks to the Wellman Hill Internship Grant, I could experience a summer full of these “unexpected moments.”
At the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, I spent a majority of my externship in the courtroom. With a legal pad and pen in hand, I took notes of everything possible from jury trials to sentencing hearings. Felons appeared with a variety of criminal charges including drug possession, assault, battery, and armed robbery. An array of civil cases concerning disputes such as breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and Fourth Amendment infringements also filled the docket. In fact, one of the most interesting proceedings I watched involved the recent Cuyahoga County corruption cases.
Many times in court, I sat adjacent to the judge’s bench. With this special seat, attorneys mistakenly addressed me as “amicus curiae,” “counselor,” or even “law clerk.” Even though I would reintroduce myself as an extern, I enjoyed every minute of being recognized as “one of them.”
Outside of the courtroom, I examined dozens of pending complaints and motions. I spent many hours reading attorney’s briefs, analyzing precedents, and summarizing legal arguments. With Chief Judge Oliver and his two clerks, I would discuss potential rulings for each of the cases I reviewed. Furthermore, I sat in on several telephone conferences and noted the differences between litigation strategies in and out of the courtroom.
During the final two weeks of my externship, I was given the rare opportunity to draft my first judicial opinion. This gave me the chance to develop an order from beginning to end. Fourteen days of research, five outlines, and seventeen pages later, I granted a motion to dismiss. When I submitted the final draft, I realized that my words could ultimately change people’s lives. Undoubtedly, this was the highlight of my summer.
My externship with Chief Judge Oliver affirmed my interests in public service and law. This summer’s experiences are a constant reminder of what can happen if I remain focused and determined to succeed.