The PILP stipend I received was an amazing avenue for funding my 1L summer internship and making public interest work financially possible in general. My position was with Pierce County’s Department of Assigned Counsel in Tacoma, Washington, often referred to as DAC. DAC provides legal defense services to indigent persons in a variety of legal proceedings. Their scope of defense is far reaching beyond criminal cases; the department represents clients in juvenile, dependency, custody and a variety of administrative proceedings.
On my first day I was assigned to a desk that was probably purchased in the 1980’s. My computer still ran an old Windows and I was instructed to only use the ancient Internet Explorer for browsing. The department’s overwhelming caseload and lack of resources physically displayed itself in the form of exploding file boxes crowding all the office hallways. My assignment for the summer term was in the sexually violent predators unit, representing offenders in civil review hearings and preparing for trial. In Washington, offenders who committed sexually violent crimes are subject to civil commitment following the completion of their criminal prison terms. Since this model does not exist in Oregon, I also spent a lot of time exploring the statute itself, both in history and in function.
My internship provided many opportunities to interview clients, gather facts and discuss the legal concerns surrounding their case. In order to accomplish this I travelled to McNeil Island by ferry, where approximately 300 of Washington’s most dangerous sexually violent offenders are sent to live indefinitely. Several clients were heading to trial, which provides a hearing opportunity for a judge to consider their conditional release from civil commitment after decades of confinement. Preparing for trial meant pouring over hundreds of pages of public disclosure records, lengthy psychiatric evaluations and reading entire criminal trial records. In addition to drafting basic pleadings, I produced work that would assist trial experts and attorneys in evaluating the discovery production in preparation for trial. I really enjoyed the creativity of assignments like this because it involved absorbing the information, asserting what is relevant and then developing charts, graphs or lists to organize the arguments in the most effective manner. The attorneys I had the pleasure of working with never hesitated to involve me in every step of the cases we worked on, willingly offered both mentorship and friendship and gave me challenging and meaningful assignments. I am confident that in the course of my internship I formed long lasting professional relationships with some of Washington’s most amazing public defenders. Their dedication to their work and to criminal defense as an invaluable standard within our justice framework was incredibly inspiring and definitely an experience I won’t soon forget.