Each year, Professor Derrick Carter of Valparaiso University Law School takes a group of students to New Orleans to do pro bono work in the Public Defender’s office. The office is in need of extra help since 27 staff members have been permanently laid off recently, leaving only 21 attorneys and a very large caseload.
Students used their criminal procedure knowledge to work on long-term projects, organize caseloads, research and write briefs and memos, listen to jailhouse tapes and accompany assigned attorneys to court. They started each day at 8:30 a.m. and some students continued working until 7 p.m. One student was given the opportunity to ride along with a New Orleans police officer while tracking down a vicious assault suspect in the French Quarter.
Professor Carter commented on the trip, “The students discovered the value of teamwork, as they helped each other with assignments. They visited court, discussed matters with Judge Davies in her chambers, saw motions and evidence argued on discovery, search and seizure, and observed closing arguments. They shared much time with the office attorneys and investigators.”
While in New Orleans, students also visited the Louisiana Supreme Court, the 9th Ward, the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and the Garden District. Law School student Benjamin Waite said “It was great to get real-world experience, but even greater to make a difference.”
Valparaiso Law student Matt Heiting said “Overall, this was an amazing experience. I was able to work close with a great attorney who was highly respected in the office and in the community. I was able to research and write issues and gain practical experience I would not have gotten in the class room. I observed many different types of hearings and worked on a Supreme Court case. All the experiences and people I have met will further advance my legal career; my decision to attend this trip was a great one.”