Wednesday, September 2, 2009

United States Attorney’s Office, MD


By Elizabeth Pittman

This summer I’ve been working at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. This is the office that represents the United States in both criminal and civil cases in the District of Maryland.
Most people know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes cases for the federal government, but a lot of people don’t realize that we handle civil cases, too. One of my first assignments was working on a civil case, where I researched the appealability of a magistrate judge’s decision to deny the government’s motion to recover costs from a non-prevailing plaintiff. That case was based on a traffic collision between a postal truck and a motorcyclist. The U.S. government was found not liable (yes, any time there is a car accident between a postal carrier and someone else, it ends up in federal court), but the judge denied the government’s bill of costs. It was my job to research how the government could appeal this decision and whether it would be likely to prevail on appeal. I also attended a deposition with a lawyer in the civil division. It was really interesting, but I can’t discuss the specifics because it is a case that is still ongoing.

I’ve also worked on a bunch of criminal issues, but again, since many of these cases are ongoing, I can’t say much about the specifics. I’ve worked on a couple of government responses to prisoners’ §2255 habeas motions, and I’ve researched evidentiary issues, sentencing issues, and wrote a 4th Circuit brief. At the U.S. Attorney’s office, all of the law clerks are always given substantive assignments, and it’s a great feeling when something you wrote is actually submitted to a judge! The attorneys are also generally pretty good about providing feedback and helping us improve our writing, too.
One of the best things about working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office is the chance to go to the courthouse and see things in action. I’ve seen pretrial detention hearings, a violation of supervised release hearing, sentencings, and trials. The past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a trial, preparing and handing all of the exhibits, meeting with federal agents, preparing witnesses, brainstorming ideas for lines of questioning, and helping prepare closing statements. Earlier this summer, I watched some of a high profile death penalty trial. Before this summer, I wasn’t sure what area of law I was interested in, but after seeing such talented and passionate lawyers in the courtroom day after day, I know that I want to be a litigator. I’m not sure in what capacity, but I want to be a lawyer who actually spends time in court, and not just in front of a computer screen.

It’s obvious that the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office really wants its summer law clerks to have a memorable experience, do substantive work, learn a lot, but also have fun. They’ve planned lunches for us with judges, with U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, and with former summer law clerks who are now clerking for District Court judges. We went on a tour of “Supermax,” the prison that houses federal detainees here in Baltimore, and we visited the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where we watched autopsies being performed. Last Friday we had the chance to go to a training facility and shoot guns with FBI instructors. It was a great way to wrap up a very fulfilling summer.
I am very glad that EJF made it possible for me to spend my summer working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. I strongly recommend spending a summer working with the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office to anyone who is interested in litigation, and particularly criminal law.

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