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Yuma: Legal mecca for students
Yuma proves to be legal mecca for students
Jose de la Vara
Law students from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law are forming a legacy of summer experiences in Yuma, a literal "trial by fire" in what is frequently listed as the hottest spot in the country, all thanks to the efforts of Jose Angel de la Vara, the Yuma County Legal Defender.
De la Vara, who will speak about the program at 12:15 on Thursday in Room 118, started hiring interns in 2005.
The next year, the public defender and the county attorney both wanted interns, and the courts wanted law clerks. They hired 10 law students, most from ASU.
"They do everything except represent people in court," de la Vara said. "They participate in interviews with clients, witnesses and experts. They sit at the counsel table and assist the attorneys. They're involved in negotiations. The first year, the first week, they were involved in two murder cases.
"They did research on one of my murder cases and got to see their work incorporated into my pleadings."
De la Vara also schedules visits with different state agencies, a tour of the jail and presentations from court interpreters, pre-trial services, probation officers and consulate staff so that the interns learn about all legal proceedings.
"My idea is to have them see our daily operations," de la Vara said. "It serves a dual purpose: Law students see if the public defense area interests them, and at the same time, I get to see the quality of interest in the student, if it's someone who might be interested in working with our office."
De la Vara, a 1976 graduate of the College of Law, said this type of internship wasn't available when he went to law school.
"Most of us, when we get out of law school, don't know what we want to do," he said. "Most of the time, with internships, we were doing legal research. In the real world, there's considerably more to do than that."
Emily Hart, a third-year law student, worked with de la Vara in the summers after her first and second year in law school, and will return to work there full-time after graduation in May.
"I can't think of a better place to get experience," Hart said. "I get to work one-on-one with a great mentor, where in bigger cities you might get thrown to the wolves."
Hart said she immediately got experience in all legal areas, including her first summer working on a second-degree murder case that raised fascinating Constitutional issues.
"My experience was awesome," Hart said. "It's a small office and I wasn't stuck in the library. I met with clients, went to the jail, helped prepare for trials, everything.
"I would definitely recommend it whether you want to do criminal law or not. You get to see how the courts work, work on briefs, do client interviews."
Hart said it also helped her with classes.
"When I took criminal procedure, it was familiar because I had done it already," she said.
Brad Mumford, a second-year law student who worked in the Yuma County Public Defender's Office last summer, said he researched the elements of larceny, worked on two murder cases, wrote motions, responses, and got to go to court to watch oral arguments in a trial on child molestation.
"I got exactly the kind of experience I was hoping for," Mumford said. "I had interesting cases to work on and learned a lot. I did depositions, met with investigators, and had brown-bag sessions on things like the Fourth Amendment and police investigations."
He said the group of ASU students also get together throughout the summer to play softball and go hiking, water skiing or to Mexico.
For more information, attend the Thursday session, or contact de la Vara at (928) 373-6051.