|My farewell gift from my summer job in 1993. Photo by J. Berta|
Twenty-two years ago, I had the best summer job ever. It was far from financially lucrative. In fact, it was an incredibly modest $7.00 an hour and all the coffee I could drink. Keep in mind I was a college graduate and well into my second degree. One might wonder why this would be such a great summer job? Well my friends, I am about to tell you.
During the summer of 1993, I was a prosecuting intern with the Scott County, Iowa Attorney's Office. Under Iowa law, I was able to perform a variety of tasks under the "supervision" of the prosecution staff. For the serious (felony) crimes, I was strictly on the sidelines. However, for misdemeanors, especially simple misdemeanor, we had the run of the place. By the place, I mean the courthouse.
It was nirvana. If you're in law school and want to get into court, this was the best job to have the summer before your third and final year of law school. Within a month of being on the job we (my other two interns and I) were in charge of the simple misdemeanor calendar. We were in court, trying cases!
Now, when I say, "in court," it was not one of the more formal courtrooms upstairs, lined with painting of former judges, with the dais from which district court judges announced decisions and fates of the convicted. This was the board of supervisors room. There was no court reporter and the judge was a magistrate. And yet the rules were as real as those upstairs. It was real court with, at times, real defense attorneys. We did not win all the time (especially when a more experienced attorney was on the other side) but the whole experience was great. And while neither my ego or I appreciated at the time, the losses were more instructive than the wins.
The County Attorney at the time was Bill Davis. Bill was personable and truly wanted us to have a great summer. He wanted us to learn. I knew him from previous political events and enjoyed having him as a distant boss. I say distant not in a bad way, just an accurate one. He was, after all, the county attorney, and delegated our "upbringing" to his subordinates.
However, he did take time to counsel me on my wardrobe choices. He told me, "Stop dressing better than the lawyers." I thought he was kidding. I guess he wasn't when he told me a second time. Sorry Bill, just could not help myself. It wasn't like I had custom made suits, I just had my shirts starched and took advantage of the discount stores in the Twin Cities where I was going to school. I am now at a point in my life where getting dressed up is far less important. Back then, it was a big deal for me. A very big deal.
One thing about the summer that I did not expect was the interaction I had with the public. I learned pretty quick just how charmed a life I had lived up until that point. Several times a day, individuals would walk in to file complaints. One of my personal favorites was the woman who walked into the County Attorney's Office and wanted to file charges against someone who had failed to honor their business transaction. A transaction for the purchase of $20.00 of crack cocaine. The woman was not even that upset, she just wanted her $20.00 back.
Then there were the less humorous ones, downright depressing, actually. I recall sitting with a victim of domestic violence who refused to testify against her abuser. She was more terrified of him going to jail and losing his job than of him flying into an alcoholic-fused rage and beating her. I think it was then that I realized this job had a dark and downside to it. I remember driving home that day, heading back to my parents' place and wondering just what type of hell on earth that women was heading back to with her boyfriend...recently sprung from jail.
When the summer ended, I received a farewell gift, the mug featured in the opening photo. I have kept that mug and used it in just about every office I have had since I became a "real" lawyer. It is a great pen holder. Every now and then, I read the inscription and recall what a wonderful summer, on average, it was for me. I might have only earned $7.00 an hour but I learned an immeasurable amount about the law, the system and myself. That was worth it. Oh, and the free coffee was appreciated as well.
Be well my friends,
This post is dedicated to the memory of Don Frank. Don was an Assistant County Attorney who passed away a few years' ago. He was a fine attorney and a better person.