High school essay contest leads to Supreme Court internship

September 4, 2012 By Charisma Miller, Esq.
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When 12th grader Jalessa Vincent decided to enter a Law Day essay contest, she already knew she had something to say. A student at Brooklyn’s High School for Student Rights, Jalessa was also a youth volunteer in the East New York Youth Court, a voluntary alternative to the criminal justice system for first-time youth offenders.  

For the past year, Jalessa and other volunteers had been acting as the lawyers, clerks, bailiffs, judges and jurors for the Youth Court, fulfilling its goal of subjecting youthful offenders to sentences by their own peers.
Those same experiences not only helped Jalessa shape her essay for the Association of Supreme Court Justices for the State of New York Law Day essay contest, they may also have given her a winning edge. The prize  a weeklong judicial internship with the Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice  had attracted hundreds of high school students to the competition, but Jalessa’s essay was the one that stood out.
Notified of her award, Jalessa was overjoyed.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.
But there was still one more step to take. She needed to choose where to spend her week. Her decision, to intern with Hon. Deborah Dowling, state Supreme Court justice, Criminal Term, was more than propitious.

For starters, Jalessa and Justice Dowling attended the same high school. And Justice Dowling had far more to offer Jalessa than just shared memories of the Jefferson Campus.
Justice Dowling, a member of the Association of Supreme Court Justices, is a dedicated supporter of community service within the judiciary. With a particular interest in mentoring students, she encouraged Jalessa to expand the reach of her critical thinking skills.
During the week of June 25, Jalessa was asked to summarize evidence presented at trial, identify the major legal issues in a case, prepare written summaries of motions before the court, and analyze the strength and weaknesses of the prosecution’s and defense’s cases.

More than giving her intern busy work, Justice Dowling provided a hands-on approach. Justice Dowling sought Jalessa’s opinion on various legal matters and often engaged her in conversations regarding the process by which she approached decisions of the court.
The training Jalessa had received from Youth Court and her academic prowess did not go unnoticed. Marsha Michael, principal law clerk to Justice Dowling, remarked on how prepared Jalessa was when making both written and oral presentations to the judge. In fact, Ms. Michael was amazed at Jalessa’s writing ability which, Ms. Michael noted, “rivals that of many college interns” she has worked with in the past.
Many judges say interns play a vital role in the judicial system, In particular, student intern programs affirm the importance of community service that many members of Brooklyn judiciary vow to uphold.

Hon. Gloria Dabiri notes that for judges, “community service is inherent in judicial service. Judges are in a unique position to provide opportunities to today’s students [and] internships in the courts expose young people to professional work environments, provide them with insight into career opportunities and allow them to experience, first hand, what is possible.”
For Jalessa, her internship was an “eye-opening experience.” The opportunity to see a “seasoned judge preside over serious charges” has shaped her future in ways Jalessa is still assessing. What she’s already decided is that she’s more determined than ever to have a “positive impact on [her] peers through the value that community service brings.”
As for the future  with her experience on Youth Court, her coveted position as a judicial intern, and her undeniable academic drive  it seems Ms. Vincent has a wonderful chance of making her dream of becoming a criminal prosecutor come true.

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