Queens District Attorney begins first ‘Brave Justice’ summer internship program

Photo courtesy of Queens District Attorney office

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced the beginning of her inaugural summer internship program, Brave Justice, with 54 law students and 12 college students.

The paid internship program for students kicked off last week as the students were welcomed via video conference to the DA’s office by Katz and Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Naiburg.

“We are very excited to have these aspiring lawyers join us for a summer of experiential learning,” Katz said. “Sadly, due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic many students across the country lost out on important internship opportunities. Not only are we going forward with an engaging program, we are also paying our interns. We are living through an extraordinary time and we know this summer internship will be an enriching experience for the participants that will both inform and inspire.”

The Brave Justice Legal Summer Internship Program will provide students with a front row seat to learn how a prosecutor’s office operates. The first summer of 2020 class was carefully selected to reflect the “World’s Borough.” The selection process became even more competitive, as the pool of applicants grew when the start date approached.

The students represent 15 different law schools and 11 colleges. Many of them are bilingual, speaking Spanish, Mandarin, Urdu, Farsi, German, Haitian Creole, French, Serbian, Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian and Russian.

The District Attorney added that many of the interns are from Queens neighborhoods, and others come from as far away as California. Some have current international roots in China, Colombia, and Serbia. The class is comprised of strong academic achievers, who have demonstrated a commitment to community and public service. Many were interested in learning about Katz’s progressive ideas to make the prosecutor’s office more in line with the world today.

While many summer opportunities are getting downsized or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Katz stood firm in her resolve to move forward with the Brave Justice Summer Legal Internship Program.

In order to meet the interns’ learning needs and provide them with a stimulating yet safe summer program, the District Attorney’s Director of Legal Hiring Mariela Palomino Herring developed a 6-week-long hybrid schedule. The approach combines in-person intern interactions along with teleworking.

The in-person component is minimal and carefully supervised to maintain the highest safety standards for the intern and office staff. Safe and socially distant work spaces had to be created and designed. Technology was developed and modified to allow law students remote access to assignments. Lectures and training exercises were reconfigured to virtual presentations via Webex video conferencing.

In addition to individual bureau assignments, interns will also receive daily presentations featuring veteran prosecutors, members of the judiciary; defense attorneys, the New York City Department of Correction and an inside look at a treatment provider. The training will also provide weekly, focused and intensive instruction on Constitutional issues involved in suppression hearings, along with a practical session on actually conducting a hearing.

The summer experience will culminate in mock suppression hearings where they will apply what they have learned during their internship.

The DA’s office believes the “arduous” steps to initiate the Brave Justice Summer Legal Internship Program was “well worth the effort.”

“Every summer, law students and college students flock to the district attorneys’ offices to learn more about the criminal justice system and to see if they want to play a future role in the administration of justice,” the DA’s office stated in a press release. “This year more than ever, we need these forward-looking, community-connected and “aware” students to be inspired to become the next-gen prosecutors.”