By Hon. John Cratsley (Ret.)
It is no surprise that students in this spring semester’s expanded and more diverse Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic and class provided over 1,000 hours of volunteer legal research and writing for their assigned judges. This exceeded the contribution of students in last year’s clinic by several hundreds of hours. The 25 students in the clinic and class were placed with 7 U.S. District Court judges, 10 Superior Court judges, and 8 judges of the Boston Municipal, District, Juvenile and Land Courts. Whether assisting a state or federal judge, the reality of big caseloads, complex litigation, and tight budgets means this extra student help is widely welcomed.
In addition to their judicial placements, students participated in a weekly class emphasizing issues impacting their judges and their courts, including alternatives to incarceration like restorative justice and treatment courts such as drug, mental health and veterans’ courts. Class sessions also focused on access to justice issues involving the unmet legal needs of the poor and the appropriate judicial response to the growth of self-represented litigants. New this year were two presentations by Adam Mansky, Program Director at the Center for Court Innovation, one open to the law school and a second in our class, describing their ground breaking work in promoting community courts.
The variety of student legal research and writing is impressive. It ranges from working on civil motions, like summary judgment and dismissal, and criminal motions to suppress, to the more complex evidentiary issues in antitrust and employment discrimination litigation. Some of the more challenging work included federal habeas corpus and judicial review of state and federal administrative agency decisions, while other students worked on mental health, 8th Amendment cruel and unusual punishment , and class action issues. Students also observed the full range of trial events from jury selection to the cross examamination of expert witnesses to sentencing and probation revocation.
Many of the students write their final papers on topics of current concern, including access to justice , sentencing policy, and re-entry issues. For example, one student who worked in a court service center in college assisting pro se litigants is writing an evaluation of the new court service centers in Massachusetts. Another is studying the impact of the recent changes in the Code of Judicial Conduct which clarify the role trial judges may play in assisting pro se litigants. And a third is exploring how new evidence based sentencing data could be incorporated into the existing sentencing guidelines. The emphasis is on student writing that explores, evaluates , and possibly reforms current judicial practices.
Here is what students had to say about their experience in the clinic:
“With plans/hopes to eventually work in a prosecutor’s office, [I valued] the opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” view of a federal judge’s approach to criminal justice issues and sentencing decisions.” — Sandra Hough, J.D. ’16
“Seeing the criminal justice system up close, both in the courtroom and during our prison visit, was profoundly effective at forever molding my view of what is currently wrong and the ways to address it.” — Michal Hain, LL.M. ’16
“I think the moment /image that will stay with me [from the clinic] is when my judge invited me to sit with her on the bench during a civil trial. The view of the court room is very different from up there.” — Samuel Wagreich, J.D. ’16