Judges and that one time criminals tried to give me advice.

Courthouses have the capacity to be very interesting places. They are sites of intrigue and drama, heartbreak and hope. They are also sites of some very awkward interactions, one of  which I will share with you today.

About a month ago I was spending all my volunteer time following various judges around. Because the court I volunteer at handles more criminal hearings than other courts in the county, I spent most of my time listening to hearings regarding these matters. Like most people in general, judges vary greatly in personality to professional style. Some would simply give me a nod as I quietly slunk in through the back door and sat down next to them, others would wait until a lull in hearings to say hello while a special few would completely stop what they were doing to talk to me. Now the first two aren’t all that exciting, no matter that they are perfectly nice people, but the last left an impression I still feel twinges of embarrassment about today.

So I quietly walk in through the back of one of the hearing rooms and take a seat next to the judicial assistant who smiles at me and asks me to pass her a file. The judge (let’s call him Judge A) is currently mid sentence with someone about what the terms of the sentencing will be and all that when he suddenly sees me, stops talking stands up, turns to me and says, “Good morning! I’m Judge A!”
“….Hi! I’m Leslie, it’s nice to meet you.” I reply, slightly stunned, at this point I considered this completely unheard of.
“Leslie, how are you doing today?”
“G-great!”
“That’s great, do you want to go to law school Leslie?” He asks, completely unfazed by the fact that people are staring.
“Yes, I do.”
“That’s great to hear.” He replies, and then turns to the front of the room and says, “Everyone, this is Leslie, she’s a volunteer here and will be helping us out today.” He smiled, sat back down. At this point the room has about 15 people in it counting the bailiffs, and all I can think is, Oh my God what just happened? Now everyone is staring at me.
I try to sink a little lower into my chair and hide behind the computer. The man who was having his case heard before I interrupted him was staring at me, and I would be lying if I wasn’t unsettled. Any man with a forehead tattoo will do that to you. Finally he says, ” That’s great, what you’re doing Miss. Don’t get in trouble like me, just keep clear of all this.” He shook his head and moved on with his hearing.
The next person approached, an overweight woman with possession with intent to sell charges, she admitted her guilt and accepted her punishment. When the judge asked if she had any questions she said, “No sir,” looked at me and then said, “I shoulda just got a job. Be smart.”
Ok then. Does anyone else find unwarranted “advice” extremely uncomfortable?  

This was my first time being public introduced to a room of people in such a way. It has easily made my top ten most awkward moments. More so because these people felt the need to give me their two cents or thank me. Even a month later, I still don’t understand the point of that. Brownie points maybe?

Anyways, the judges I had the pleasure of meeting were all very nice people, but the one that publicly embarrassed me was definitely the coolest I have met. Maybe he was bored, maybe he was excited to see a “young person” interested in law, but he took the time kind of self narrate what he was doing and why the entire time I was in the room. When we had a break he asked me to come visit him in his office and ask any questions I would like about law school or his profession. That day was definitely one of my most educational days in the courthouse.

And as for the people that tried to give me life advice? Well, I never planned to join a gang or sell drugs, so seeing what they’re going through just gave me more reasons why I won’t be taking up either of those things as hobbies.

 

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On Life

Ok, let’s talk for a minute (or two) about how incredibly easy it is to get carried away with life and forget stuff (like writing in this blog)…

I know I haven’t been back since my “Wolf Among Sheep” article but that doesn’t mean nothing interesting happened. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

Anyways, I took the LSAT (AHH!) and I applied for Law School (Yay!). As an obvious result of these two things, I had very little time, and when I did, writing was not on the top of my to-do list purely because I was pouring every ounce of creativity I had into those lovely personal statements! I worked incredibly hard on both of these tasks, submitted in December and then immersed myself into the very daunting task of finding employment! Not just any employment, I might add, but employment that coincides with my interests and life goals. So in the midst of all this busyness, life took over and my little hobbies got tossed to the side. Last week I finally felt like I reached the surface, after swimming from the bottom of a deep deep body of water for a while. When I finally came up for air I realized 2 things, 1: Its March and 2: I really need to get back to working on things that I like. So here we are. Life sure is crazy sometimes, I feel like the last 2 months just sped by me before I even noticed.

I now write before as a partially employed human, doing a job that has nothing to do with my life goals, but happy to just have a pay check. Since the job hunt isn’t quite as intense when you’re already employed, I think it’s safe to say that I’m back!

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A Wolf Among Sheep

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A few weeks ago I attended a Lincoln Club and Young Republican’s meeting at a nearby country club. I was kindly invited by a staff member from the Assemblyman’s office and while I am not overtly political I thought it might be a good idea to attend, nurture some relationships and maybe learn something.

Now once again, I am not overtly political. In politics I take as a holistic and neutral approach as I possibly can to issues before I form my own opinion, my lack of a bipolar party affiliation has left me a bit of an outsider, unable to agree with either side.  I consider myself neither Democrat nor Republican, but I felt like an outright spy while I attended these events, a wolf among sheep (hiding who I truly am/my own opinions in other words…)

The meeting started off normally enough, introductions a short welcome speech, and of course delicious food (seriously the only thing that had me coming back the second time was the food). Then right before we began to eat and converse, they said, “Let us first say a prayer,” my initial reaction was “WHAT?” I had to remind myself I wasn’t actually at a government organization, I was at an organization meeting that happens to fund a large portion of the government. They said a prayer, mostly prayed for Congress… I kind of agreed with that, but was praying someone there would grow some sense and stop with this government shut down nonsense.

Anyways, prayer done, and its time to chow down and rub some elbows. Now, despite the fact that having been in a sorority had trained me for these exact situations, this was so incredibly awkward. The conversations were dreadfully shallow and it felt like everyone was waiting for someone to say some certain thing, but no one ever did. The Lincoln Club attendees were all aged 50+, business owners that were reasonably well off enough to actually afford the 30K a year membership at said country club, and didn’t have too much to talk about except taxes and Obama, and there’s only so much you can talk about on those two topics. On the other side were the Young Republican’s club, they were all people in their 20’s, and surprised me a bit more. Until then, I had never conversed with people my own age that joked about political economic problems and things like sequestration. That portion of lunch was surprisingly refreshing. While I kept my mouth shut when certain topics I am strongly against came up simply for the sake of maintaining harmony and not “ousting” myself as an outsider, I did actually hear some things I did not expect. The top was the overall consensus of the young republicans very strongly against the pro-life agenda, despite their party’s strong stance for it. This was actually very refreshing, while 30 people is certainly no consensus on an entire political party, I felt a bit of hope for  the future of Republicans, since if these people are any indication, the party could be moving out of the dark ages.

Next was the business end of the meeting. There was of course your normal keynote speaker, he talked about the club and the importance of joining and donating- typical stuff. Then next were a few special speakers about rebranding the party. Literally, if I had a dime  for every club meeting ever that I have been to that talks about rebranding their image, I’d have like… two dollars. This is not new, although it’s still nice to hear that the Republicans are at least aware that they look like raving bible thumping crazy people to most of the educated public, and are as a result trying to do something to change that. The biggest topic was about moving away from the religious right, and moving more towards ideals of intermediate conservancy. Honestly, I liked this talk. It was very hopeful and showed a different side to the party. I always like hearing that organizations want to change, now whether they are actually able to is an entirely different story. The next speaker was talking about moving towards getting more non-white people to join the party. Now that was an interesting talk. I could count the minorities in the room on one hand, and I knew that at least one sitting next to me was indeed a card carrying liberal. Seriously, he has a liberal card. Anyways, I suppose this talk was very inspiring, because after it my table neighbor was considering trading in his liberal card for one a bit more red in color. 

After about an hour of what I found interesting, inspiring but totally idealistic and unobtainable goal setting and talking then came the money grubbing part. At this point I felt like the poorest person in the room. People were writing $1000.00 checks for campaigns like it was nothing. I get that it’s a tax write off and all, but I can’t imagine just giving $1000.00 to someone for some arbitrary service. After this exercise, there was some more awkward and shallow conversation, then pictures and then people slowly filtered out, chatted and shook hands with the speakers. During this time I got to meet the speakers and chat it up with a few other people, I also met Jim Bruelty. That was a little neat, I always like meeting important people. The worst part about this however was how much I felt like I was lying. I didn’t want to upset people with my opinions, so I kept my head down and agreed politely. I attempted faultingly to make conversation with people but I really just couldn’t keep up what felt more and more like an act. When I left the country club, I heaved a sigh of relief, shed my sheepskin and drove home. The next day I was offered an internship at my local congressman’s office by someone I had spoken to at the meeting.

This was truly a strange experience, but as I have said in previous articles: sometimes you have to go do things that don’t necessarily pique your interests for the sake of nurturing professional relationships and the possibility of opening new doors- doors which I successfully did manage to open! Was I sufficiently convinced to go join the Republican party? No. Am I any more educated that I was before I attended? Yes. Would I go again? If there’s free food, count me in!

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Intern Days: Appeasement

Appeasement: to bring about a state of peace and quiet, to cause to subside.

In politics this word becomes a part of your vocabulary. “How can we appease these people?” When you have so many people with diverse wants, needs and goals, what can you do? What if in the process in making one person happy, you make another angry? While most politicians set out to make decisions that would best benefit the group, they still must ensure that individual constituents are appeased in some way. However, we eventually find ourselves asking not only how we can do these things but what appeasement really means, not only for the politician, but for the constituent.

The last few months I spent a considerable amount of time working with the Constituent Outreach Program, which is really just a fancy term for data collection. Myself and other interns, made calls, knocked on doors and read emails in order to gather information about constituent concerns to be recorded into a statistical system that researches what the biggest concerns are in given precinct. In my time collecting all this information, I became very familiar with the concept of appeasement.  When you ask people if they have any concerns about things going on in their community, city, or state you really can’t say much in response except for some variation of, “Thank you for your input, we really appreciate it.”  Some people will merely slam the door in your face, but others will talk at you with such ferocity, you find yourself struggling not to back away. When the latter happens, you can’t do much but nod your head and try to make them feel their voice is going to be heard. You learn quickly that you can’t solve everyones problems. You can only hope to give them something that appeases them, be it a helpful suggestion, words of sympathy, or a simple thank you for your time.

When I reflect on my outreach experiences, I cannot imagine being the actual politician. The amount of people and the variety of their concerns is almost mind boggling. What can you do when constituents approach you at an event and ask for certain pieces of legislature to be written? What about when people express their displeasure with the passage of certain bills? The amount of time and effort that some of our more outstanding politicians put towards appeasing their constituents is far greater than I could have imagined three months ago. From morning breakfasts with open Q&A’s to large scale events geared towards various social strata, the central ingredient of appeasement is giving people an opportunity to share their story, and letting them know their voice matters.

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Multitasking and how I realized it didn’t just apply to walking and chewing gum.

Ok, ok, I already knew multitasking was a thing, after all we all multitaskCan you walk, talk, chew gum and instagram yourself walking, talking and chewing gum? Good job, you can multitask. But that’s not the type of multitasking I’m talking about. There is a kind of multitasking you do in life, and another you develop in the workplace. I don’t think too many recent graduates have realized the difference between two yet.

Multitasking in the workplace usually requires the use of actual brain power simultaneously. Splitting your concentrations among different tasks is an acquired skill that does take a bit of practice. When I mention using brain power simultaneously, I mean that you’re doing a few things at once that you have to think a bit about. Typing and talking on the phone? That is not easy at first. Typing up a newsletter, listening to someone ask you questions, and having to give useful answers is quite a challenge. When you’re busy with other pressing tasks and the phone is ringing off the hook you adapt or else your work might never get done on time.

Now I used to think I could multitask, I didn’t really know there were different types. People list this as a skill on LinkedIn like its going out of style, and I now wonder if they really know what it means. Does anyone really know what all those arbitrary skills like multitasking, teamwork, or nonprofits are even supposed to mean? (On another note, I seriously saw someone list “nonprofits” as a skill, someone please explain to me how “nonprofits” is even a skill.)

Learning to multitask in a workplace environment is not too easy in the beginning. Occasionally I found myself very busy, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t stop what I was doing just to answer the phone. At first I had many stops and starts, typos, and uhm’s but with a little practice, I was reading articles, or writing, inputting data, answering calls, and even answering questions that require me to think about more than our address. …I feel like my brain may have actually grown as a result.

So, to all my fellow recent grads, calm down on the “skill” list on LinkedIn, and try to list things that you actually understand the meaning of. Whoever out there is viewing your profile is likely to be more impressed with thoughtful content, rather than a large quantity of it.

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Intern Days: Got Bills?

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As an intern in a political office, one of the things you quickly become familiar with are legislative bills. Senate Bills, Assembly Bills and bills that don’t even exist yet are daily encounters for office interns. Usually, people will simply send form emails requesting a bill be created or amended to address a certain issue. But sometimes, people take the time to come in to the office to personally deliver such requests. Monday proved to be one of those days.

About an hour after opening the office, I’m standing at the front counter chatting with another intern and reading the newspaper when we suddenly spot a man struggling up the walkway with a huge stack of 6 inch binders in his arms. We both stare in confusion for a moment, the man opens the door and excitedly exclaims, “I wanna make a bill!” He slams the binders on the front counter and begins talking quickly about taxes, Southern California Edison, fees, the government, his car, personal life… the list goes on. Obviously, we were all a bit lost as to what exactly he wanted this bill to be about, and we never really did find out, though we did try. Upon the man’s exit we were left with several very thick binders of Southern California Edison tariff rules, regulation legislature and billing agreements and a nice letter the excited man had written giving a very vague idea of what he wanted, and a promise to return tomorrow. The district director heaved a sigh after the man’s exit, flipped through a few of the binders and then said, “Well, I know what you two are doing today! Read through these and see if there is a possible bill!”

Despite the intimidating volume of information, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t weirdly excited about all this. I read the man’s letter, developed a loose hypothesis about what he may have wanted, and got to reading. Of course I was not about to read every binder, instead I focused on a few specific codes I thought would be relevant, read, annotated and then cross referenced with currently existing legislature. Now, reading through those codes were anything but dry and boring. They proved to be very interesting and revealed some big discrepancies between the defined purpose of SCE alternative energy and diversification policy and their actual practiced policies towards energy diversification. So, after all that work, I actually did find a bill to propose, though I’m still not entirely sure it was what our office visitor had wanted.

I have never enjoyed work so much. Reading through the various documents, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Someone wrote this, how cool is that?’  Needless to say, I nerded out all over those binders.

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Intern Days: Court Edition

Today was my second day at my local courthouse and it was easily the most exciting and intimidating experience I’ve had as an intern thus far.

12 pm today, I walk through the huge glass doors of the courthouse, clipping on my shiny new bright pink volunteer badge and smile hello to security as they buzz me in to the back. Minutes later I am thrown in the deep end, usually just how I like it… but this time the deep end was really, really deep. The sheer volume of information that was thrown at me was utterly overwhelming. From abbreviations, a break down of all department duties, to how to make files. Despite the huge volume of information which was initially intimidating, the practice of the information was completely exciting. What later proved to actually be more intimidating was the lack of ability to ask questions due simply to the busyness of all the employees.

I spent the first 3 hours of my shift working the information window, which despite the numerous comments by other volunteers that it was, “soooooo boring,” actually turned out to be quite entertaining at times. At Information, I found myself fielding a wide variety of questions all asked in different ways. Many times people just walked up to the window and handed me whatever paperwork they had and asked me where to go. I found myself utilizing my speed reading ability I had polished during my undergrad and even having to do a bit of critical thinking.

My last two hours were spent with Family Law. Today I was given a quick crash course on “go backs,” which are basically files that need to be organized and re-shelved. Organizing the files was easy enough, finding where all those files needed to go was not. After finding homes for around 60 files, I was left with the infamous ‘Fat Files’ and basement files that use an older and arguably more archaic system of logic. I found myself standing with two 5-inch Fat Files in hand walking up and down the 20 foot shelves with no discernible pattern of organization. I walked through  the isles twice looking for anything that might be close to the numbers I had.

Suddenly, just as I was about to heave a huge sign of frustration I spotted a cart coming around the corner decorated to the nines in fall flavor pushed by one of the sweetest old ladies I have ever seen. She smiled at me as she approached, took one look at the files I had in hand and in my cart and simply said, “Don’t worry, EVERYBODY gets lost down here, let me give you a hand.” During a moment when anyone I was supposed to ask was simply too busy to be bothered, I could not have been more happy to hear those words. After only 10 minutes she had me deciphering the mysterious document control codes and shelving files with ease.

After only two days, I can already tell that volunteering at the courthouse is going to be a very challenging and enriching experience. So far I have enjoyed learning about the different intricacies of the court, and look forward to learning more about civil procedure, and other court practices. Most of all though, I am ready to tackle mastering the language of the court in full force.

 

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