I started my life as a public employee in 2006. I was fresh out of law school and had just been hired to be a law clerk for a judge in district court. As explained to me during my interview, budget cuts had impacted the court’s ability to hire for all positions, so the law clerk position had been combined with the court judicial assistant position, and I would be doing a little bit of everything. I was excited about the possibilities and nervous about the unknowns.
Never a predictable day
Working at the court was nothing like I thought it would be, but that was probably the best thing that could have happened. I thought that I would be drafting orders for the judge all day, but it turned out that I got to do far more due to the budget cuts. It’s hard to describe a “typical” day, because each day was so different.
Usually I would spend time in court in the morning, taking “notes” in the electronic files for each case. Our division had both criminal and civil cases, so I was exposed to a lot of different types of matters. The criminal cases were fascinating - ranging from petty crimes to serious crimes, such as several murder cases.
Each morning the deputies would bring the inmates over from the jail and they would get the opportunity to consult with their attorneys. On our busiest mornings we would run through 40 different inmates who would be entering a plea of not guilty (and setting the case for trial) or who would be pleading guilty and getting sentenced. It was nothing like you see on "Law and Order," but it was fascinating to see the whole process taking place. In the afternoons I would sort through different briefs submitted by the lawyers and help the judge draft orders.
A behind-the-scenes look
When we had jury trials I acted as bailiff and was responsible for escorting the jury and ensuring their needs were met. Everyone complains about being called for jury duty, but by the end of each trial there was never a juror who regretted participating in the process. I now have much more respect for the decisions that juries have to make.
In one case, the defendant was accused of killing his wife on their wedding night and he had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. I watched the whole trial and tried to put myself in the place of the jurors who had to make the difficult decisions. In speaking with the jurors after their verdict was announced (he was found guilty in the end) and they were released from service, it was clear that each had taken the decision very seriously and it weighed heavily on them.
At that point I really came to understand how important juries are to our whole legal process.
On the other side of things were the civil cases. On that end, I had far more contact with the parties involved in the cases. They would call and ask different questions about the status of their cases, or would sometimes show up unannounced and demand answers. I think those cases were where I really had a feeling that I was helping people because I had so much contact with everyone involved. When people are suing each other and only one side can “win,” it’s hard to make everyone happy. But what I came to realize is that people really just want an opportunity to be heard and have their position respected -- even if they ultimately do not “win.”
Lessons from life in the public sector
I have carried that lesson forward with me as I continue my career as a public employee – listen and try to understand where other people are coming from. I am currently in a position where I am sometimes adverse to other parties, but that doesn’t mean we have to dislike each other or be anything other than professional. At the end of the day as public employees we are all working toward the same goal – to help people in our wonderful state have a better life.