August 12, 2019 | By Sarah Brittan, '20
This summer I interned in Michigan’s 44th District Court in my hometown of Royal Oak, to gain a better understanding of the judicial system in Michigan. I was surprised to learn that there are many ways our district court helps people in my community.
For instance, the 44th District Court holds a sobriety court every week to help people who committed drunk-driving offenses because of their struggles with alcohol. This intensive, two-year program leads these individuals to a healthier, sober life. Completing the program also makes them significantly less likely to reoffend, making the community a safer place.
Our judge, Derek Meinecke, also plays an active role in helping unlicensed drivers in the Metro Detroit area restore their licenses. The financial hurdles involved in gaining a license back can seem impossible for people with low incomes. Judge Meinecke works with unlicensed drivers through the difficult process, delaying sentencing as people slowly pay off old tickets, and reducing fines when licenses are restored. So far our court has helped restore over 100 licenses, helping many people gain new opportunities in life.
I worked hands-on inside the courtroom, where I was part of the many moving pieces that must be organized in order for a courtroom to run smoothly. I assisted in this process by helping defendants and attorneys navigate court proceedings, making sure the correct files were in front of the judge, and filling out court notices for defendants who needed to return at a later date.
I was also able to help Judge Meinecke outside the courtroom. When court was off session, I was given the project of collecting data on driver’s-license suspensions that the judge could use to advocate for unlicensed drivers in Detroit. I was even able to travel with the judge to Detroit’s 36th District Court to meet with a judge there about how Detroit can also assist unlicensed drivers.
Having these opportunities over the summer has been very beneficial in thinking about my future career in the legal field. I’ve always known that I wanted to go into law because of the power our laws have to help individuals and communities. This internship expanded my awareness of how this can happen. I hope that I can continue to learn about the different ways our legal system helps people as I continue to study law in the future.