Thursday, August 6, 2009
Appellate Division, First Department, New York
By David Yellin
This summer I have been fortunate enough to intern for Associate Justice James Catterson of the Appellate Division, First Department in New York. The First Department is the intermediate state appellate court hearing appeals from Bronx and New York (Manhattan) Counties. The courthouse at 25th St. and Madison Ave. in Manhattan is one of the most incredible buildings I’ve worked in. The courtroom is covered in frescoes and stained glass with a massive stained glass dome, and the halls are lined with pictures of old judges (there’s a great shot of Cardozo right outside the library), historical shots of New York City, and assorted other antiquities. Unfortunately we’re only in the city about half the time, and when the judge isn’t sitting we go to his chambers in Riverhead (out east on Long Island) where we work in an unused courtroom.
We have spent most of our time drafting opinions for the judge. On the first day, the law clerk gave us a case briefs, record, and law report (bench memos produced by the court attorneys for the full panel of judges) and told us to write an opinion in two weeks or less. So far, two of the opinions I wrote have been voted on by a full panel and are on their way to editing and (hopefully) publication. I drafted two others after the judges stopped meeting for the summer. The opinions I drafted included financial issues, a statutory interpretation case, and a criminal appeal. I even wrote one dissent that ended up as the majority opinion, which was pretty cool.
We have also gotten a chance to observe several sessions of oral argument. The judge prepared us for each session by giving us a stack of bench memos to read to familiarize ourselves with several of the cases, and then grilled us on each case. It was moderately terrifying at first (who wants to get cold-called during lunch over the summer?) but has actually been tremendously educational. And, since he’s one of the more vocal judges on the bench, it gave us a chance to understand the questions he’s asking and how they fit into the way he sees the case. We have also seen various other proceedings and observed pieces of a trial in the Riverhead courthouse.
However, as interesting and educational as the work has been (and it has been extremely so), probably the best part of the internship is probably the fact that we get face time with the judge during lunch almost every day. It has given us a chance to ask questions as well as to get to know the judge we were interning for.
It’s been a pretty amazing summer. I got a lot of experience, learned a lot of law, and honed my writing skills considerably; I’m looking forward hopefully to seeing some of my work on Westlaw this fall.