As a part of my graduation requirement from CSG, all seniors have to complete a three-week long internship and then do a final project. I spent the last three weeks at the local Court of Common Pleas shadowing different judges, prosecutors, and public defenders. I did everything from watch murder trials to work on a judge’s political campaign to listen to jail calls. It was honestly some of the best three weeks of my entire life, and I learned SO MUCH while I was there. Not only did I learn a lot about the process of law, but I also learned the importance of appreciating living in a democratic society and also receiving an education.
I had not been exposed to any experience in a court setting before Senior May Program, since no one in my family is a lawyer. Ultimately, I was nervous, anxious, and excited all at the same time when I first walked into Judge McIntosh’s office on Monday, May 6. I had always wanted to learn about what the law profession was like. Throughout my entire life I have been told that I would make a good lawyer since I really enjoy talking (even in public), I excel the most in my writing/discussion classes, and I really enjoy reading and writing. After spending these three and a half weeks at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, I am really interested in pursuing a career in the legal field following my undergraduate education at Kenyon College.
I truly experienced the laws of the United States come to life. For example, prior to my time with Judge McIntosh, I never realized the importance of our sixth amendment: the right to a speedy trial. When a person has been indicted for a case, he/she has the right to a speedy trial such that the case does not sit around for years without being solved. This is especially important when the person has received a high bond and has been incarcerated up until their trial date. Before watching these cases, the right to the sixth amendment (among many other rights entitled by the Constitution of the United States) was simply a term that I had to memorize for AP Government. I have gained such a great appreciation for all the effort the Founding Fathers put into creating a system of laws that would rule this country. People who are indicted on cases should feel very fortunate to be living in America, as the majority of countries around us do not have the simple rights we take for granted (but also make a huge difference in the process of law) such as the presumption of innocence.
There are, obviously, several flaws to our system. For example, when a defendant fails to show up for an interview after three times, the case is dismissed completely and obviously the court cannot do anything about it except issue a warrant for his/her arrest (which does not actually guarantee that this person will be put behind bars, even if they are deserving). In general, however, the legal system in this country is one to be proud of and one to be thankful for.
Another aspect of my May Program revolved around a total change in my perspective of prisoners and inmates. I, like most Americans who have little knowledge/experience with inmates, did not particularly respect inmates, and I often maintained a judgmental and condemning attitude whenever I interacted with them. However, when I worked with the Public Defender’s Office, toured the holding cells for the prisoners, and experienced the court room from the defendant’s point of view, I gained a whole new respect for each person who had been convicted or indicted of a charge. Just because a person is convicted does not mean he/she is evil. It was eye-opening to remember that we are all humans, and therefore, we all are bound to make mistakes throughout our lives. I had a totally different expectation of what being a public defender would entail, and I am really thankful that I was able to experience it firsthand to make all the stereotypes in my head die down. It made me realize that even criminals are humans and need to have someone to fight for their rights just as equally as those on the other side of the table.
When my dad moved to America following obtaining his medical degree, he was looking to escape Egypt’s arbitrary rules and regulations that persecuted Christians. My dad has always told me to be thankful for the opportunities we have as citizens of the United States, especially to pursue an education without any restrictions. Recently, I have become increasingly thankful for the huge investment (not just financially) my parents have put into my CSG education. I have often taken it for granted—waking up every morning and throwing on my plaid skirt, attending classes and preparing for college. My experience at the Court of Common Pleas really opened my eyes to all that I have been blessed with, especially with regard to my education. More than 90% of the people convicted of crimes at the Court have not even graduated from high school.
Judge McIntosh discussed with me on many occasions the value of education, and I was able to see his passion for education in our visit to Blendon Middle School on Career Day to showcase the legal profession to sixth grade and seventh grade students. After my time in the Court, my appreciation for my education has increased dramatically. There is clearly a direct correlation between not getting an education and the higher chance for someone to commit a crime. My time in the court was an eye-opening experience for me to continue to fight for the importance of education into my college days and into adulthood. My Laptops for Egypt project has a whole new meaning now—I have really and truly learned that education is the most important gift you can give a child. No matter where, no matter who, or no matter the circumstances, education is a precious entity that cannot be taken away.
I have to admit that some of the cases I watched were incredibly difficult for me to read and think about. I have been so fortunate to grow up in a stable and happy family environment my entire life. When I consider all the violence and the unhappiness in the households of the defendants and the victims, I became more aware of how appreciative I should be of my particular family situation. I was especially affected at how violence is so negatively impacting hundreds of kids around Columbus. I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of victims and hear their sides of the stories. It was especially meaningful to hear a child talk about the domestic violence happening in his/her life. My entire life, I have always loved children and have wanted to pursue a career in which I can advocate for children, who cannot advocate for themselves. I often focused too narrowly on careers in the medical realm as the only solution to my desire to help kids, since doctors are literally saving the lives of their patients. However, my Senior May Program opened my eyes to understand the possibilities that exist in the legal field to advocate for children, too.
Overall, my time at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas was an experience I would not trade for anything else in the world. There is not another place I can think of that I would rather have spent the last three and a half weeks. It was amazing to hear every judge’s story about how he/she got involved in law and how each judge’s background experience contributes so heavily to each judge’s particular style of ruling. Even though law seems to be very cut and dry, I realized that it is not.
Excerpts taken from “Reflections on FCCCP” by Sarah Naguib