After College I went to South Texas College Of Law, a regional Law School in the Houston Area. I knew that I wanted to end my time there by finding a way to work as a prosecutor but I was unsure of how to realize that goal. I looked up the programs that the school had and I came across a legal clinic where I could get school credit for working at the DA’s office. I jumped on the opportunity and signed up. The fact that I had to pay for the class, and by extension to work at the DA’s office, wasn’t relevant. That was totally fine if I could get my shot.
When we showed up for our first day we were given somewhat of a choice as to where we would go. You could be an intern in one of the courts or you could be an intern in a special jurisdiction like Juvenile, Animal Cruelty or the Family Criminal Law Division. The people overseeing the program indicated that your chances were better if you did well in the Family Criminal Law Division. I signed up for that division even though I really didn’t know what they did or anything about family violence.
I showed up to the office met with my supervisor and got plunged into a world of prosecutors, social workers and law enforcement scrambling to protect victims of family violence by seeking protective orders against their family members and dating partners. If you’ve never heard of this then I should explain.
A Protective Order is a court order signed by a Judge in District Court making it a criminal offense for a family member, roommate, current or former romantic partner to commit violence, threaten violence or harass a loved one. It also orders a person to stay away from a family member/roommate/current or former romantic partner from going to her* house, workplace or school as well as preventing him* from possessing a firearm or ammunition. In order to receive a protective order, the applicant has to prove that Family Violence has occurred and that Family Violence is likely to occur in the future. Texas law provides that a prosecutor can seek these orders and they can be state or federally funded.
As an intern I was responsible for filing these orders on behalf of the women in court, working with the applicants and case workers to find where the respondent can be served, keeping the applicant updated on the progress of the case and representing the applicant at the court date. If the defendant was served and didn’t show up then we could proceed without him. If he was there then we would try to talk to him and see if he wanted to agree with the order. If he didn’t want to agree then we would have a hearing in front of the Judge to see if the order was going to be granted. It was a fast-paced job that required and understanding of the law, the courts, family violence, bedside manner and dealing with multiple different personalities. And I loved it.
I dove right in and learned the ropes and was representing applicants for protective orders within my second month on the job. I moved my school schedule around in order to work as much as I could. I became friends with all the clerks, coordinators and court personnel. I helped train and mentor other interns that ended up being better than I was. I dealt with respondents (which were the defendants in this action, that is, we were claiming that our applicants needed protective orders against them because of the violence) and their attorneys in a respectful manner while advocating my side. That was important, especially this one time.
One night my friend called me while I was studying for finals. She called me to say that her car had broken down and she needed help. When I got there she had called a tow truck and was waiting for it on the side of a busy highway. I got there and sat with her while we waited for the truck. When the tow truck driver arrived my initial idea was to ride with them to her place to make sure that they got their safely. I had to pull back because my own car had problems and I had to pull over and get a tow truck for it. Because irony.
When I got my car towed and home I called my friend and asked her what happened to her. She said that she had made it home and that the tow truck driver remembered me from a protective order that I had gotten on him from March. I was shocked and amazed over the phone. He never mentioned it and never as much as gave me a side eye or any look of any kind. I went into the office the next day and pulled his information up and lo and behold, my handwriting was all over the file. The file and the order showed that I had talked to him earlier in the year and he had agreed to the protective order, plain as day. I stood there and was shocked for a moment. If he had any unkind words or actions that he wanted to exhibit towards me he could have that night and I wouldn’t have even seen them coming. Maybe he didn’t have anything bad to say to me because I was professional and did what I was there to do, or maybe it’s because in cases like these the people who are accused of this very rarely go after people like me, the people who are there to give assistance. Sure they do every now and then, but it’s quite rare.
I had already known from my job as an assistant district clerk to treat everyone with dignity and respect because it’s the right thing to do, but this was the first time that I had ever seen its importance in practice. I made special care to do so from then on.
I went on to be a prosecutor handling misdemeanor and felony cases, but my best times there were as an intern where I learned how important it was for people to have a good advocate for them, how important it was to get off the sidelines and act, and how important it was to learn something new. I enjoyed my time there and even though I am a defense attorney now, I’ll never forget those lessons.