Thursday, July 31, 2008

United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Virginia

Pat McDermott shares his summer experiences:

This summer I have had the pleasure of interning in the chambers of
the Honorable Michael F. Urbanski, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Virginia. It has been invaluable experience and I am indebted to Judge Urbanski and his Law Clerk, Yousri Omar, for all I have learned. As a magistrate judge, Judge Urbanski has many pretrial motions from a variety of civil cases (including the always dreadful denial of social security benefits appeals) referred to him and conducts almost of all of the pretrial hearings for criminal cases. Because magistrate judges are only allotted funds for one law clerk, my summer has been loaded with significant work.

In the first two weeks of my internship I drafted a memo to the judge on an insurance claim dispute, a memorandum opinion on a motion to quash a subpoena in an employment discrimination case, and an order on another motion to quash in an ERISA denial of benefits case. In between writing and researching these civil matters, I was able watch the judge in action at detention hearings in criminal prosecutions. These detention hearings occasionally included testimony from witnesses from both the prosecution and defense, as well as closing arguments from both sides. The judge would then determine whether the defendant should be detained, specifically, he must determine whether the defendant is a risk of flight or poses a danger to the community. In rare cases, the judge called a recess to see what the law clerk and I thought about the arguments. Although always appreciative of our thoughts, any disagreements were usually resolved with a friendly reminder from the judge that only one of our opinions mattered.

I also have been able to observe the mediations which the judge regularly conducts. During a mediation, both parties come to the courthouse where each side makes opening arguments and then divides into separate rooms. The judge then bounces back and forth between the rooms for the rest of the day, negotiating a settlement deal. As the skills and style necessary to securing a beneficial settlement for a client are much different in the mediation setting as opposed to winning a verdict in a courtroom setting, seeing these mediations first hand has been a highly interesting and educational experience.

I truly believe that one could not spend their summer in a more beneficial position than I have this summer as a judicial intern with Judge Urbanski. I have worked on a wide assortment of issues,including the marital communications privilege, a prisoner's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a criminal contempt action, and a motion for attorney's fees. The work I did on practical, real-world applications of the law greatly improved my research, writing, and
communication skills. I benefited from the assistance and editing of the three different law clerks. I have seen many different styles of argument from lawyers and how effective each is in the eyes of a federal judge.

The generous grant I received from the Equal Justice Foundation continues to be an integral part of my unpaid internship this summer and I am extremely appreciative of this assistance.

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Equal Justice Foundation

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