Monday, June 30, 2008
In the realm of criminal law, sophistication is generally attributed
to Wall Street securities fraudsters. However, it applies all the
same to child pornographers. Thanks to EJF and the generosity of its
donors, I have the privilege of combating their savvy at the Child
Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division.
These offenders must be savvy because the mandatory minimum sentences
they face are severe (or rather, quite proportional to the harms they
perpetuate). Hence most of my projects have been research on
procedural and evidentiary issues involving defendants' use of
technology to evade capture or to preclude admissibility of electronic
evidence. For example, my first memorandum concerned the execution of
search warrants on computer hard-drives. Normally, searches must be
particularized to areas on a premise where the object sought is
logically likely to be found. But on computers where possessors of
child pornography alter file extensions and disguise file and folder
names, how can law enforcement ever find evidence if it searched only
for files entitled "pre-teen sex.jpeg"? For a former computer science
major, the opportunity to help the law develop in the face of
technological advancement has been fascinating.
However, I have to observe such development from afar because CEOS is
part of main Justice and its cases are all over the country rather
than in a particular federal district. The flip side is that I have
gotten a taste of the intricacies of forum selection by working on
prosecutions in numerous jurisdictions from Massachusetts to Alaska.
And given CEOS's advisory role to the 93 U.S. Attorney's Offices, I
have the opportunity to see a much wider range of issues than even
those that arise from CEOS's own cases. Therefore, this internship
has been quite the eye-opening experience, and I am privileged to work
with such a great group of people on such a worthy cause; for that I
am thankful to both CEOS and EJF.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Juan removes the loose 4x6 prints from the dresser drawer with tremendous care. Delicately unwrapping them from a protective covering, he introduces us slowly to each scene, each loved one, and each memory. My mother…my sister…my nephew…my boss—he was an American like you actually….
Juan does not hold the pictures, but rather, he cradles them. He handles each one like a piece of white-bone china, smiling upon it with pride and envy. I feel privileged to learn the contents of each photo, but I am also hesitant, not wanting to trespass on his only remaining property. Juan shares the final photo with my colleagues and me, and then, as meticulously as he retrieved them, he tucks the photos back into the drawer.
We are here on a home visit. The Red Cross partners with UNHCR to provide this service to urban refugees in Panamá. On this afternoon, my colleagues and I have met with seven refugee families, including traveling to their homes, ensuring they have enough food, and inquiring about any other pressing needs. Juan's residence is our final stop. He is a vivacious young man who is a current asylum seeker from Colombia. Although he possessed a well-paying job, lived a comfortable life style, and married a woman he loved, he was forced to leave Colombia out of imminent fear that he would be killed by the FARC. Now, he works as a day laborer (when he can find work) and waits patiently (for the bureaucracy demands patience) to learn his fate in the refugee determination process. Juan is one of the 25.1
million refugees and internally-displaced people currently under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) around the world. Like Juan, they have fled, literally, for their lives. They have left behind their families, possessions, way of life, and the land they love.
This summer, I am working for refugees like Juan as an intern in the
Protection Unit of the UNHCR Panamá office. Most of my time is spent researching issues that impact individuals and families seeking refugee status in Panama. I investigate the country background of potential asylum cases with the goal of corroborating their stories with news coverage and government reports of the area where they fled.
I also have worked on projects to better understand how international refugee law is incorporated (or not) into domestic law and to consider ways the asylum-seeking system may be improved. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to "work in the field" and meet refugees living in Panama City. Already, I have learned a tremendous amount about international refugee law and the practical, messy issues that surface when dealing in a particular domestic context that is both a signatory to the relevant international treaties on refugee protection and has its own relevant domestic laws.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to intern with UNHCR this summer, a position I could not have accepted without the financial support from EJF. Regardless of my career track, the skills and lessons I have learned this summer will undoubtedly make me a better lawyer and a more compassionate citizen of the world.
I was very quickly welcomed to the Narcotics and Organized Crime Division of the US Attorney's Office, and with that welcome came countless opportunities to deal hands on with federal prosecutions. Within minutes of entering the division's office, I was introduced to a case which had already yielded one indictment for the trafficking of crystal methamphetamine. The Assistant US Attorney to whom I was assigned needed contact information in order to issue dozens of subpoenas to companies across the country. Knowing that I would spend the summer taking part in the gradual building of criminal prosecutions was exhilarating.
The investigation into the depths of the trafficking operation and role of co-conspirators was in its early stages, and so on just my third day in the office, I found myself riding along with the DEA agents on the case as they prepared to raid a house. Over the course of the last month, the investigation has picked up steam, and I have assisted directly with an investigation in bank and flight records, the monitoring of recorded jail calls, and the debriefing of several parties to the conspiracy.
Aside from that primary case, I have also spent hours reviewing the evidence that is currently mounting in an international smuggling case. On several occasions, I have taken part in debriefing relevant parties, cooperators, etc. and sat in on inter-agency meetings with the DEA and Customs.
My comfort level in the courtroom has also drastically increased as I've watched a murder trial in the Superior Court as well as several hearings (sentencing, competency, etc.) in the Federal District Court.
Finally, some time has been spent working on legal research, primarily dealing with the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act, decisions related to its application, and also the legislative history of the Act. Last week, I drafted a motion and an order to seal a trial transcript in order to protect the identity of a government cooperator, and this week, I researched ineffective assistance of counsel as grounds for a new trial.
If not for EJF, I would literally not be able to pay my rent this summer and would have been unable to take this incredibly stimulating and hand-on internship.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
There are only two summer law clerks so we receive assignments from many attorneys in the office. Most of the assignments consist of legal research and writing. Some assignments include updating case law on environmental statutes, deciphering what constitutional issues may arise in new cases, and developing a record to support case referrals to the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division. My favorite assignments so far have considered protection of polar bears, the constitutional implications of recent Supreme Court decisions on protection of endangered species, and the development of Alaska's permitting program with its implications for drilling in Alaska.
Beyond the office, there is opportunity for field trips and chances to observe other aspects of the legal profession. With many environmental cases proceeding to settlement, I also have the chance to observe negotiations with opposing counsel. Last week I toured an oil refinery after a meeting with their attorneys to discuss a recent Notice of Violation. With the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals courtroom just upstairs from the Office of Regional Counsel, I will also be able to observe hearings in current Ninth Circuit cases as well.
EJF funding made it possible for me to leave DC and gain a perspective on how the regional branches of federal agencies operate. The experience has greatly helped me understand how the policies promulgated at Headquarters play out in the field through the individual cases brought by EPA and will help me formulate more effective environmental policies in the future.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
My first week as an intern for a federal judge in the SDNY was as interesting and capturing as reading a bestselling page-turner. When I arrived early Monday morning, I was greeted by the judge’s two law clerks, who showed me my computer and desk. Just as I sat down to admire my thirteenth-floor view that overlooked lower Manhattan, I was told we were going to court because the judge was hearing a civil trial for the next two days.
The trial was an introduction to how informative and engaging the judge would be. During each break, the judge took time to explain to us certain legal nuisances that occurred in the courtroom and to advise us on what she thought were the good (and not so good) habits of the attorneys. After trial ended, the judge treated us to lunch on Wednesday where the topics of conversation ranged from law to theater to literature. The judge was eager to share her opinions, but she was even more interested in what we had to say.
The judge’s law clerks perfectly complemented her warmness with their enthusiasm and willingness to mentor me and the two other interns. Although they were inundated with work, the law clerks took additional time to explain the issues that arose in their cases. Because they believed it was a two-way street, they gave us the responsibility to independently draft memos that they would edit and then send to the judge. However, the best part of my first week was the lunches that we ate together every day in chambers. The law clerks, the deputy clerk, the other interns, and I sat around a big table and chatted about pending cases, legal gossip, and just about our lives.
I cannot imagine a better first week and I am thankful to EJF for making this experience feasible.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
For my summer internship made possible by my EJF summer stipend, I am working in Los Angeles at the U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California. There are fifteen summer "externs" from law schools including NYU, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and USC. After a few days of orientation, the extern coordinators assigned us to different sections within the office and paired us with Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) mentors. I was assigned to the National Security section. Because of security precautions, I cannot go into detail about my specific assignments. Overall, the work has been interesting and substantive.
Most extern assignments include research, drafting motions, writing memos, preparing evidence exhibits, and observing trials. In addition to work, the office arranged for the externs to tour the federal prison in Los Angeles, which holds individuals awaiting trial and awaiting transfer to other federal prisons. The prison is nine stories high with prisoners on most floors, which range from minimum to high security. We toured the woman's floor that holds eighty-five prisoners as well as two minimum-security male floors. We also viewed the law library, which is expected to receive Lexis and Westlaw access in the next year.
So far, my experience has exceeded my expectations. From the intelligent, friendly, and outgoing AUSA's to the intellectually challenging work, my externship is ideal. Because my internship is unpaid, the EJF grant made it possible for me to accept my summer externship. Without EJF funding, I would not be able to further my own career goal—working in public service, specifically at the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's office.
Zeynep Darendeliler shares her experiences from Sarajevo;
I work for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. IOM is a Geneva based inter-governmental organization working to improve a host of conditions that impact or result from voluntary and involuntary migration. Therefore, its broad mandate includes refugees, internally displaced persons, labor migrants, returnees etc.
Currently, I have been assigned to one of IOM Bosnia’s ongoing projects called the NATO Trust Fund (NTF) Programme, funded by NATO Member states. Bosnia and Herzegovina is undergoing a Defense Reform process, through which it is downsizing a significant portion of its former military personnel. After the disarmament and demobilization stage, in an effort to ensure peace and stability, and foster economic recovery, the NTF Programme aims to reintegrate these discharged personnel into civilian life and the labor force. For this purpose, the NTF Programme has already assisted beneficiaries with in-kind assistance such as equipment for start-up or expansion businesses, vocational courses for employable qualifications, or machinery / livestock / seeds for agricultural ventures. At this point, the Programme is trying to find service providers, development NGOs, municipalities, cooperatives etc in order to coordinate with IOM in ensuring sustainability of these business and agricultural ventures.
For example, many discharged personnel already had skills to work as blacksmiths, tinsmiths, welders etc, and as a concrete project, IOM assisted them with equipment for metal work ateliers. These personnel now have the skills and the tools, but they still have to find markets, business partners etc to sell their products. So, IOM is trying to contract with organizations that offer business training and consulting in an effort to organize such beneficiaries into clusters, enabling them to reduce costs through group purchases, refer overflow business to each other, or achieve the scale necessary to apply as a group for large-scale jobs, particularly in the construction industry, a growing sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
My role in all this is to:
- research and identify institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina with such existing training and consulting programs;
- draft a proposal tailored to the types of services they provide and the potential cooperation between them and IOM;
- contact them with these proposals;
- if the cooperation will go forward, draft a Memorandum of Understanding defining the obligations of both sides in the cooperation;
- again, if the cooperation will forward, and the services will be partially funded by IOM, draft Terms of Reference to contract with the institutions and define the terms of the grant.
In short, the internship is a great mix of policy, real-world contact and negotiation, budgeting and funding, and legal drafting. Further, it offers an illustrative window into working for an inter-governmental organization, working at the local office of such an organization and implementing projects on the ground.
Most local IOM offices generate their own funding through project grants and, due to this, do not possess a budget to compensate interns like myself. So, my summer internship here would not have been possible without EJF funding, and I truly appreciate the value of this opportunity as I plan to work in the areas of migration and development, preferably at such a local office, upon graduation.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Magburaka, Sierra Leone. Below she shares some of her experiences:
The first picture is of me and some workers doing an investigation at a gold
mining site. An American gold mining company has failed to pay its workers for their services and since terminated them. Through Timap for Justice, we went to the site to speak with the manager of the site and to do further investigations before writing a letter notifing the company, the labor office, and the police station.
The second picture is of me talking with the paramount chiefs during a travel clinic. The chiefs in the town of Malong confiscated farmland from one farmer eleven years ago and fined him several times for removing a neighboring farmowner's vegetables. There has been no oversight, and this poor farmer has been unable to pay his fines because he has not been permitted to harvest his bananas from his farm. Timap for Justice is holding a formal meeting with the paramount chiefs and the farmer next week after conducting some investigations with the local court (where the issue was also brought, but allegedly ignored).
A recent United Nations Development Program ranking of health, education, and standards of living ranked Sierra Leone last out of 177 countries. The World Bank classified Sierra Leone as "severely indebted." The minimum wage is only about 21,000 per month (ca. US$ 7.00 per month). Corruption is massive, and "justice" (as in most places in the world) is only accessible to the wealthy.
The injustices I have read about, seen, and felt recently, has made my last month's work with the NGO I am interning at that much more rewarding. It is truly an invaluable organization in a country with so many injustices and paralyzing poverty. Being surrounded by amazingly beautiful and strong people, facing the kind of poverty and problems that I wish on no one but am grateful to be able to help address, and learning from the paralegals and founders of the organization, have made my time with Timap for Justice a humbling and invaluable experience.
Sierra Leone is divided up into chiefdoms and districts. I live in the Tonkolili district, under the Kholifa Rowalla Chiefdom. In the last month, the organization for which I have been working as a legal intern, is called Timap for Justice. "Timap" means "stand up" in the Krio language. I work with two paralegals, Zainab and Hassan. Mondays through Thursdays we work in Magburaka town, where our office is located. We conduct mediations, do intakes, go on follow ups, talk to chiefs, officials, etc. On occasion, we also travel outside of Magburaka for investigations as we did for the gold mining company case, of which I posted pictures some time ago. On Fridays, we have a mobile clinic where we visit other Chiefdoms in our district and encourage the village people to report problems to Timap for Justice. The most common cases my office has handled during my stay include family disputes, corruption by chiefs and other authority figures, land disputes, breaches of contract, and employment related disputes.
The paralegals, Hassan and Zainab, who I am working with, are amazing. They are really good at feeling out the people they help. They let them know they understand and they're thorough when informing their clients of their options to address their issues. Working for Timap for Justice and with amazing paralegals like Hassan and Zainab has shown me how much I need to be doing this kind of work right now and in the future.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Elizabeth Bartlett shares her summer experiences:
I’m completely impressed with The Children’s
After one week the seven other law clerks and I have been given an overview of the organization, attended caseload meetings with our project groups, and been sent to a great lunch put on by the Washington Council of Lawyers. The second week has begun with a custody hearing, serving papers, attending a family law case handlers meeting, doing legal research on several topics, and reviewing case files. I really feel like I’m part of my project team and that I’m making a meaningful contribution to the custody and adoption work it focuses on.
I’m really glad to have the opportunity to take a job like this during my first law school summer. It’s very easy to jump on the firm bandwagon without trying out other ways to practice law when one path pays and the other doesn’t. EJF funding gives students the possibility of trying out the public and nonprofit sectors without having to necessarily work two jobs. I hope others are having a high quality experience like I am, and that students in the future will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
Whistleblowers serve as a vital source of information for all manner of public interest matter and my involvement here stems ultimately from my interest in environmental conservation. But I’m excited to be a part of a legal team that works for transparency and accountability on behalf of the public. Thanks to EJF funds I get to be part of something really exciting thing summer.
I am currently working with two other interns on a reply brief on behalf of a former FBI agent. Our client retired involuntarily after making protected allegations that FBI agents in her office had removed personal property from Ground Zero. Within months of this allegation, the FBI began termination proceedings after 25 years of service. We hope to further the precedent that whistleblowers are safe from retribution when they voice their observations of corruption and other skullduggery.