Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My EJF Court Internship in Florida

I spent part of my summer at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, interning with Judge Gill Freeman in state court—in Florida’s 11th Circuit. Judge Freeman is a former Florida Supreme Court nominee and the sole full-time jurist in Miami's Complex Business Litigation (CBL) Division; most of Judge Freeman’s caseload is filled with cases from the CBL Division. In a nutshell, the CBL Division only hears civil cases where the matter in controversy exceeds $150,000; also, all motions, like in federal court, must be in writing to the court.

My main task as a judicial intern was to resolve parties' motions to dismiss. I also attended oral arguments at every stage in the litigation process: motion calendar, trials, summary judgment proceedings, and other matters before the court. Indeed, most of my work dealt with assisting Judge Freeman in several high dollar controversies. I witnessed very impressive counsel from all over the country, litigating complex civil disputes, and at times the arguments were as sophisticated as those given before appeals courts.

At the same time, Judge Freeman maintained a foreclosure calendar, which allowed me to see a different side of the civil litigation process. The recent housing market decline hit Miami very hard, and each judge at the county courthouse had to take on a docket, loaded with several hundred cases. Twice a week, the judge heard oral arguments on her foreclosure calendar. Given the number of cases, we sometimes had to move to a larger courtroom to fit the litigants. Several parties represented themselves. Some attorney’s represented, on the same day, as many as ten different plaintiffs. I heard arguments from landlords trying to evict to tenants crying with their families, begging the judge for a 30 day stay on a bank’s eviction notice. Some attorneys, barely dressed in business casual wearing sunglasses on their head, perpetually frustrated Judge Freeman. Foreclosed tenants hired attorneys to submit any argument, boarding on the frivolous. The disparity in representation was glaring. Over the course of several days, I would hear arguments and analyze motions from some of the best and worst attorney’s in Florida; from the large law firm to the motions submitted by pro se litigants. The experience provided me an opportunity to compare and contrast legal writing and presentation skills spanning the spectrum of lawyers.

The practical skills I learned in the several weeks at the Miami-Dade Courthouse allowed me to get a first hand experience on the workings in an overcrowded state court, apply my legal skills in a real world environment, establish contacts, and network with potential employers. Such an experience would not have been possible without EJF funding and support.


--Johnathan Ayers

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