Summer interns have landed in the Richmond County courthouse to learn the basics of criminal law and polish their poise in front of judges.
Third-year law students are allowed to practice in Georgia with supervision, and Public Defender Kate Mason and District Attorney Ashley Wright welcome the extra workers in their offices.
“It’s a mutually beneficial system,” Wright said.
The interns come from a variety of backgrounds and bring different motivations for studying law.
Matt Andrews, 30, is a former Army captain who deployed twice to the Middle East. While he never envisioned a career in law, the public speaking and leadership skills he developed as a military officer proved a perfect fit for a lawyer. Putting his book knowledge into practice as an assistant district attorney is “fascinating,” Andrews said.
“It’s become a real-life experience,” he said.
In the public defender’s office, Ben Stewart, 25, is interested in the humanitarian use of law. He’s already been a clerk in a legal aid office and plans to work with nonprofits before he finishes his studies. Stewart has several ambitions for his career, including a post as an appellate judge.
“I think I find just too many things interesting,” he said.
Neither intern has lawyers in the family. Stewart, of Aiken, is studying law at the University of Notre Dame after spending a year with AmeriCorps helping lawyers mediate issues between tenants and landlords. The potential to help people in a bind was his inspiration.
To date, his best experience in Augusta has been watching defense attorney Tom Withers represent Joe Neal Jr., an Augusta attorney indicted on charges including rape. In Stewart’s opinion, Withers’ opening statement was “gold.”
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in person,” he said.
Andrews, of Evans, followed his family into the Army; his mother was a lieutenant colonel stationed at Fort Gordon’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center before her retirement. His first job in the Army was in the armored division, but with no need for tanks in Iraq, Andrews became a platoon leader on foot patrols. Inspecting craters for bombs was just one of the dangers he faced.
“They say there’s no atheists in foxholes. Well, there are no atheists walking up to an IED crater, either,” he said.
At the urging of Augusta attorney Shawn Hammond, also a veteran, Andrews took and passed the Law School Admission Test.
His studies at Georgia State University have given him the legal knowledge; the practical application is “everything I hoped that it would be,” he said.