2010 Fellows

Nate Yohannes '12

Nathnael Yohannes '12.

[In the summer of 2010] I interned with the Monroe County public defender's office in the Violent Felony Offenses Division. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience. When trying to figure out how I would like to spend my 1L summer, I wanted a position that was hands-on, and the internship with the public defender's office was exactly what I was looking for. At least three days a week I was either in court or in the Monroe County Jail and Correction Center meeting with defendants.

When I was not at court or visiting clients, I was assigned to work on a case that gained a tremendous amount of media attention. The case dealt with a defendant charged with arson in the second degree for burning down a plaza in Rochester. The incident caused $3 million in damage. Because of the vast amount of damage that occurred, federal investigators in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led this case, which allowed me to see firsthand how federal authorities conduct their investigations. I also got to see firsthand how effective the PD's office is with the limited resources it has. Although the facts of the case were not favorable to the defendant and he pleaded guilty (receiving 20 years), I was amazed how determined the PD's office was in trying to give the defendant a fair chance and informing him about the status of his case. I remember spending hours in a holding cell with my supervisor explaining to a defendant the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence. With the workload these attorneys have, one would think they would be quick with each client, but that was not the case at all.

After my summer experience, I have gained a whole new appreciation for public defenders. Some of the brightest attorneys in Monroe County have devoted their careers to trying to maintain justice in our legal system, and without this fellowship I don't think I would have been able to spend my time with some truly amazing people.