My externship with Judge David Ashworth, a judge on the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, was an exceptionally eye-opening and informative experience. Having no prior background or training in law, I could not have asked for a better way to be introduced to the workings of the everyday American judiciary system. While major Supreme Court cases are often the only ones reported by major media news outlets, the majority of United States court cases occur in smaller courts such as the one in Lancaster County. These cases, while seemingly insignificant, can have monumental effects on the lives of everyday Americans.
From the get go, my externship opened to me a facet of life that I had for too long turned a blind eye too. My first day at Lancaster County Court quickly introduced me to the “real world” as I sat in on the beginning of a criminal homicide trial that grew more contentious as it progressed. It was emotionally harrowing to watch the family of the victim break down in court as the story of his (the victim’s) death was told. At Judge Ashworth’s recommendation, I followed that case very closely for the rest of the week. While I was never physically involved in the proceedings, it was titillating to watch the defense and prosecution duel with words and witnesses. Not only did this trial show me how thorough the judicial system is, it was a testament to the law profession. Both lawyers were impressive orators whose argumentation offered a learning experience in and of itself. My experience, while at times emotionally difficult, was useful. When I was exposed to a similarly emotional situation in the sentencing of a convicted rapist later in the week, I found I could deal with it a lot better. It is important for me to confront those difficulties and hard truths as I explore a career in law.
The other major aspect of my externship consisted of time in what I refer to as “specialty courts”, or courts that are specifically designed to deal with one particular genre of cases. For example, I had the pleasure of sitting in on Drug Court (Judge Ashworth’s bread and butter) and Juvenile Court, which are set up to rehabilitate drug addicts and juveniles respectively. What made these courts most unique was their informality. The Judges and recovering drug addicts/juveniles would often conduct candid conversations about the issues at hand, something extremely rare in traditional trial hearings. For example, Judge Ashworth and his Drug Court team (a collection of experts from all around the local government and drug rehabilitation field) knew each of the people enrolled in the Drug Court program familiarly. With this information, the Drug Court team would design individual treatment plans and punishments for each person so as to help them toward an eventual full recovery. Sometimes their methods tended towards the carrot, sometimes the stick, but they all centered around a highly acclaimed Drug Court program. Such a personalized approach, while labor intensive, has yielded well documented and undeniable success in addressing the pervasive issue of drug/alcohol addiction in the Lancaster community. The commitment of the local government, of Judge Ashworth, and the Drug Court team to the betterment of an often shunned portion of society was simply inspirational.
In closing, my externship amounted to more than I ever thought it could. It was an emotional, enlightening experience that unveiled the complexity and intricacy of the law profession. I made personal connections, established professional relationships, and encountered the real world in unanticipated ways. I feel as though I experienced a year in a week, and I look forward to further contemplating a career in law. I am greatly appreciative of Judge Ashworth for giving me a window into his profession.